The news spread like a fire in a dry field. After all, it's not every day that Jerusalem can boast that a member of the city council opposition becomes chairman of the Jerusalem headquarters of the largest national party.
Yes, dear readers: Nir Barkat will be heading Kadima's operations here in Jerusalem.
But the "real" news behind the move is Barkat's rather surprising decision to step out of the closet. Ever since he burst into the local political scene, some three years ago, Barkat has been very cautious and has refrained from allying himself publicly with the Likud party or to the Sharon family - with whom, it turns out, he is very close.
Barkat never denied these ties, but he made it clear that he preferred his image as the smiling man from the neighborhood, the one who can represent both secular leftists and Likudniks and even some of the religious Zionists on the city council.
Until this week. Now Barkat's teflon coating has been peeled away.
The reactions came quickly. In the first few hours following his announcement, Barkat's telephones were jammed by citizens - and few of them were calling to wish him well or congratulate him. Most of the calls were coming from people allied with religious Zionism and the right wing, who had voted for Barkat because he had always expressed sympathy for their positions.
"These people feel betrayed. They do not understand why he's going to help Sharon and Olmert," said a member of Barkat's party, Jerusalem Will Succeed - who, by the way, found out about Barkat's decision only half an hour before it was made public.
Things that Barkat himself said a few months ago perhaps provide the best explanation for his decision. In a chance conversation, Barkat said that he had come to understand that the surest way to the mayor's office might be by running through membership in a national political party. At the time, he was thinking about the Likud, but his personal ties with Sharon's son, Omri, naturally led him to Kadima. And it was only a few more steps into the shoes of the chairman of Kadima's Jerusalem headquarters.
On that very same day, as Barkat was still closing the last details of his new job, Mayor Uri Lupolianski made his way to the Deputy Interior Minister, Ruhama Avraham. At the end of the short photo-op, Avraham handed Lupolianski a generous check - in the sum of NIS 45 million, the first in a series of government allocations, part of the municipal rehabilitation plan. Avraham, who apparently doesn't read the local newspapers, congratulated the mayor and the city's general manager, Eitan Meir, on their great success in implementation of the plan.
Had she read any of the local press, she would have noticed that the rehabilitation plan is stuck and going nowhere fast. The head of the workers' committee, who was part of the initial agreement over the plan, refuses to even talk with Meir. Some 300 employees who were supposed to have left the municipality long ago are still drawing their salaries and the municipality has hired an additional 130 new workers over the past two months - in blatant violation of the plan.
Said a high-ranking clerk at the Interior Ministry, "This whole rehabilitation plan has become a farce, but we are in an election period. A photo-op is too important now for both Lupolianski and Avraham, and they're not about to let the facts disturb them."
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