Like a gala festive opening, it was all there: food, music, high spirits and, of course, family members, presents and flowers. Last Wednesday, in front of a large audience, the first city council meeting was held under the new mayor's baton. Facing the smiles and the bright eyes of the lucky winners, most of the haredi members played it cool and showed a lot of camaraderie and even respect for their replacements at the helm. Later on, during the session itself, some of the guests and the representatives of the local press were quite impressed to hear eager remarks coming from Shas and United Torah Judaism benches urging new city councillors to always support the law, "even in cases of synagogue building permits issues." But back to more serious issues - after all, we're talking about the city's future and its residents' welfare. One must admit that even for such an initiation into the business of mayorship, Nir Barkat was quite remarkable. Under his leadership, at least for this first session, all went smoothly: no talking (not too much, anyway) during the speeches, (almost) no phone calls, very few cases of wandering and chatting loudly around in the hall and outside during the whole long meeting (more than three hours). And, most important, an unusually polite and civilized tone of discussion, even during the rather restrained, though tense, dialogue between Barkat and the opposition leader. This is the perfect time to let you know that although the city council does have an opposition, this is going to be a one-man show. After he succeeded in seducing the two last parties, Shas and UTJ, to join his coalition, Barkat, in a moment of thin irony - or perhaps sheer concern for the democratic game - decided not to include in the new coalition his old-time rival, former member of his previous party, city council member Meir Turgeman. In a brand-new suit and one of his trade-mark pink ties, with a deep baritone voice and somewhat exaggerated politeness, Turgeman challenged his former friend to "show the exact same respect for the opposition" that Barkat used to request - though with very little success - from former mayor Uri Lupolianski. "The reason why I am not in your coalition is exclusively the result of your decision and your responsibility," opened Turgeman, and fired on: "You will respect me as if I were the head of a large opposition, notwithstanding the fact that I am alone in this front." Barkat, still restrained but obviously a little upset, promised no less than "full respect and attention for the opposition leader." According to the rules, the opposition has some privileges. One of them is to head the Comptroller's Committee. This is a prestigious committee, which requires first and foremost an honest chairman who is beyond reproach. Being the only opposition member, Turgeman is automatically the sole candidate for the job - but, alas, the same Turgeman is currently the subject of an inquiry launched by city comptroller Shlomit Rubin who, in her last report, said he was suspected of felony and misuse of public funds. But no serious report of this first city council meeting would be complete without a glance at one particularly moving moment. Veteran city council member Pepe Alallu (Meretz) was unanimously elected deputy mayor, after more than 15 years in the opposition. Alallu choked back a tear and promised never to forget "what it means to be a fierce oppositionist." As for the next city council meeting, within a month, the sessions will be broadcast on the Internet and, as promised during Barkat's campaign, committee debates will be open to the public.

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