How will the next mayor of Jerusalem impact the city?

Despite what one might expect, security issues and the tension between haredi and pluralist sectors are not major factors in the decision of Jerusalemites to remain here or to leave the city.

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October 14, 2018 04:04
3 minute read.
Trash piles up near the shuk during last winter’s sanitation strike.

Trash piles up near the shuk during last winter’s sanitation strike.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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As we get closer to the election date, the number of mayoral candidates has shrunk from nine to six, and it is time to focus on the major issues – such as housing, employment, public transportation and sanitation. 

While no candidate has actual mayoral experience, four of them have been serving at the council level and as deputy mayor. Ze’ev Elkin is a relative newcomer to the municipal arena, although he headed the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry for three years, where he mostly was involved in getting money for some of the city’s projects. 


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Most candidates speak about what they will do to improve things, and at least two of the candidates have presented clear and detailed programs. Two weeks after fellow candidate Ofer Berkovitch, and three weeks before the election, Elkin revealed his detailed vision and plans for the city. The two platforms outline similar issues, nevertheless they reveal significant differences in approach.


Since all candidates raise the same basic issues, one might conclude that what Jerusalem needs seems to be quite obvious to all. It is noteworthy that Mayor Nir Barkat was the first candidate ever to present a detailed plan of his aims – a 250-page report titled Barkat’s Plan for Jerusalem to Succeed. Elkin’s plan is similar, on a colorful eight-page brochure, while Berkovitch’s, which is on display on the Internet, runs to 44 pages. More than 10 years have elapsed, yet the top issues apparently remain roughly the same.


In addition to affordable housing, attractive jobs, sanitation and public transportation, most of the candidates also stake out positions on culture, education and community issues, with different levels of priority. Reading between the lines, one gleans that despite what one might expect, security issues and the tension between haredi and pluralist sectors are not major factors in the decision of Jerusalemites to remain here or to leave the city. 


A glance at Elkin’s program reveals a lot about his vision and about his confidence in his ability to obtain the significant support from the government that his program requires. Elkin envisions a transformation in the look and the character of the city, which, under his helm, will develop within a decade or so into a large, modern city, with abundant hi-tech activity, towers – and as a result, fewer green spaces. At a press conference on Monday, he admitted that in order to build enough to match the needs of the Jerusalemites that he wants to keep here, some of the green lungs around the city will have to be sacrificed. Berkovitch’s published vision is centered on a sustainable Jerusalem, a green and environmentally friendly city, although he does not specify how to build adequate affordable housing without touching the last green spaces. This lack of specifics seems to be the rule among the mayoral aspirants. 


While Elkin outlines a housing program based on two stages – with 20,000 units by 2025 and 60,000 more by 2040 – Berkovitch’s plan provides not figures but rather a range of local options. Berkovitch focuses on affordable housing through a range of solutions, including more planning through enhanced coordination between residents and local authorities, and diverse government programs that help first-time homebuyers. Elkin calls for 10,000 to 40,000 housing units by 2040 from various projects of city renewal and additional building through Tama 38. He pledges to streamline the bureaucracy regarding building permits administration – something Barkat has already tried at least twice without appreciable success. 


Generally speaking, while Elkin anchors his plan of action on significant financial and logistic support from the government, Berkovitch presents a vision based more on the capacity of Jerusalemites to take action and promote change – with the need for governmental financial and logistic support more in the background. In other words, Berkovitch works with a community and civil society emphasis,while Elkin understands that things have to be decided at the highest levels and implemented on the ground once things have obtained the green light – and the money – necessary. 

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