Kulanu MK and Yerushalmim founder Rachel Azaria has announced her intention to run for mayor. The decision adds to an ever-growing list of candidates who are trying to replace outgoing mayor Nir Barkat including Moshe Lion, Ofer Berkovitch and Ze’ev Elkin.
Azaria had been rumored to be thinking about running for some time. It is assumed that she will be supported by the Yerushalmim, the party that she helped found in 2008. However, as of this writing, no official announcement has been made. Previously, Azaria had been rumored to be encouraging the Yerushalmim to allow Ze’ev Elkin to join the party as its mayoral candidate.
After being elected to the council in 2013, Azaria left for the Knesset in 2015 when Moshe Kahlon asked her to join Kulanu. Kulanu is currently considering supporting Moshe’s brother Kobi as a mayoral candidate. During her time in the city council and in the Knesset, she led a number of initiatives to reduce parenting costs in Israel.
Her decision is problematic for Hitorerut candidate Ofer Berkovitch whose party was hoping to receive some votes from the Yerushalmim’s base. Since the parties were founded in 2008, there has been tension between the two parties and between Azaria and Berkovitch. In 2008, they ran together and received two mandates, but split soon after. In 2013, the Yerushalmim received two mandates as compared to Hitorerut’s four. A recent Facebook campaign called for the two parties to unite, though there is no chance of that happening now. Activists in Hitorerut are suggesting that she is running in order to move votes away for Berkovitch in order to help clear the way for Elkin to become mayor.
Recent polls taken before Azaria’s announcement, and which excluded Jerusalem’s Haredi population, were painting a picture of a tight three-way race between Berkovitch, Lion, and Elkin.
The city is also waiting for Yossi Deutsch, a potential Haredi candidate to decide whether he is running. Yediot Yerushalayim is reporting the Deutsch is currently meeting with Haredi and religious Zionist rabbis in an attempt to gain their support. If he does decide to replace Barkat, it would likely create pressure on pluralist/Zionist candidates to defer to whoever is leading in the polls at the time of the election (October 30th) so as not to allow a Haredi candidate an easy victory. Assuming that East Jerusalem residents boycott the elections again, the city is split fairly evenly between Haredim and non-Haredim.
Update: Unnamed sources are telling re:Jerusalem that the Yerushalmim party was unaware that Rachel Azaria was going to announce her run for mayor. The party is currently unsure if they will be supporting Azaria due to their fears that it will split the city’s pluralist vote. Azaria helped to found the party in 2008. This likely means that Azaria is intending to form another pluralist party in the city.