Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is playing a very different ball game than the other mayoral candidates. In his traditional fashion, he began campaigning long after his competitors, and his only platform currently available to the public is a 200-page plan written in 2017.
With 20 years in office to tout, Huldai’s predominant message seems to be “What you see is what you get,” and after being elected four times, he appears abundantly confident that the Tel Aviv public likes what they see.
The campaign slogan of his main contender, deputy mayor Asaf Zamir, is “The time has come,” to which Huldai responds by saying, if the main argument against his reelection is the length of time he has headed City Hall, “it shows the level of the argument.”
“I served in the IAF for 27 years and I didn’t get bored,” Huldai told The Jerusalem Post during an interview in his office on Monday. “And I have been here 20 years. All my life I am busy with my hobbies. I was a pilot and I worked in my hobby, I was a teacher and I worked in my hobby, and today I am mayor and enjoying every moment. And today after 20 years I am much more experienced, much cleverer. I know how to do things in a more professional way that is better and more efficient than ever.”
Asked what he has not yet done that he would like to do, Huldai responds: “There is nothing in life in which you get to a place where you say ‘enough.’ There is not enough road safety, and there is not enough education. There is not enough welfare and there is not enough and there is not enough... it’s endless.”
The same goes for infrastructure, he says, pointing to Tel Aviv’s new museum, the Cameri Theater and the almost-completed refurbishment of Beit Lessin Theater and Bloomfield Stadium, which is also undergoing renovation and expansion.
As for not having a concise platform like other candidates, Huldai says, “I’m not dealing with ‘the issue,’ but with everything,” and promises that he will continue making improvements in all the fields he has worked on thus far.
“I didn’t hear any candidate talk about the infrastructure system of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which once was flooded every winter in neighborhoods in the south. Today there are no floods… and I didn’t hear anyone say they will deal with Hayarkon [Park], because I took it when it was extraordinarily polluted, and today it is has become a bustling place,” Huldai continues.
THE TRANSPORTATION system, which he describes as “terrible,” he says is solely in the hands of Transportation Minister Israel Katz, with whom Huldai has butted heads several times, particularly over matters pertaining to Shabbat. “What we can do, we have done,” Huldai says, pointing at the city’s green Tel- O-Fun rental bikes, which are available on Shabbat, as well as the green Autotel cars, which likewise can be used on Shabbat.
Further, Huldai says, he can do no more to increase the transportation options available in Tel Aviv on Shabbat unless there is a change of guard in the Transportation Ministry.
A 120-point plan set to be made public in the coming days by Huldai’s team states: “We are not spouting slogans or making promises we cannot keep.”
Indeed, Huldai’s response to the transportation issue, as well as on several other major problems which he blames on the government, shows that in certain areas the mayor feels the city is being held up by the government, and there is nothing he can do about it further than what he has already done.
Addressing accidents caused by electric bikes and mopeds, for instance, Huldai again points to the Transportation Ministry. City Hall, he says, has and is still working to lay down bike paths across Tel Aviv-Jaffa, but further than that, the ministry must do its part to increase road safety.
“You have 140 km. of bicycle lanes in Tel Aviv-Jaffa,” he says, protesting a question about a problematic bike path that runs along Ibn Gvirol Street’s sidewalk, which is some three kilometers in length. “I admit, there is a problem on Ibn Gvirol which needs to be fixed.”
“But even Ibn Gvirol, when we started making the path 15 years ago, not so many people used bicycles,” he counters. “We renovated Ibn Gvirol and we found this solution, and for several years it was fine. It stopped being OK when the amount of bicycles and electric bikes increased.”
Since then, he said, all bike paths in Tel Aviv have been installed on the road, not on the pavement, and he said a network of bike paths has and is being constructed speedily.
In some areas, he added, the maximum speed will be limited to 30 kph so cyclists can ride on the road.
“I told the transportation minister years ago to deal with the subject of electric bikes and that one day it would be an issue, and here it happened,” Huldai says, in reference to the waves the subject has made recently due to accidents, some deadly, involving electric bikes.
IMPROVING INFRASTRUCTURE is City Hall’s solution to the problem, but Huldai says it’s a problem that must also be tackled by all the relevant government bodies.
Also on the subject of transportation, Huldai mentions that he proposed creating a metropolis and that Katz has repeatedly agreed to the idea but never advanced it. “The day he does it I will bless him,” Huldai states.
On the burning issue of migrants in neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, Huldai remarks, “That is not a problem that I created.”
“I help them all the time. I am the only person who helps them. When a weak population enters a weak neighborhood, it creates a clash,” Huldai said. “The government put them there and left, leaving me with the problem. The minister of culture [Miri Regev] comes and talks about them as ‘cancer’ and then goes and leaves me with that racism. I am helping them, they are human beings. I established an assistance center for foreign workers. I provide them with education and I provide reinforcement for the residents of the neighborhoods.
“It’s an issue which I deal with and will continue to deal with as part of the challenges that the government creates for me,” he says, mentioning again the subject of transportation as well as the high cost of living, which he says are not because of Tel Aviv but are problems created by government policy and absorbed by Tel Aviv.
Responding to charges by his opponents that he is turning Tel Aviv into a city for the rich, he says, “People have been claiming that for the past 15 years, but actually the opposite is happening.”
“One hundred thousand people came into Tel Aviv-Jaffa since I have been mayor, and families with children who once would have left are staying here. And every year I built 50 new kindergartens and I built two primary schools, and even a high school... the number of youngsters in the city has grown significantly.” Today, he adds, 30% of Tel Aviv’s population is between the ages of 20 and 35.
“This is a city for everyone. We have here the richest and the poorest,” he declares. It’s true, he admits, that in Tel Aviv most residents have to settle for smaller homes than elsewhere, but he says it’s worth if for the services they receive from the city.
Most important, he added the city transformed from a bankrupt city to an economically thriving one, and from one that residents abandoned to one in which people want to live.
Huldai dismisses recent polls that show Zamir catching up with him, indicating that they have been sponsored by interested parties. “The polls aren’t changing, the gap is still OK and I will be mayor,” he asserts.
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