(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/YEHUDIT GARINKOL)
Ramat Hasharon residents elected city councilman Avi Gruber as their new mayor Tuesday in a special election held to choose a successor to Yitzhak Rochberger, who was forced to quit two years ago due to corruption charges.
Gruber, who was not affiliated with a national party, won more than 70 percent of the vote in a run-off race against deputy mayor Ya'acov Koretzki of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Degel Hatorah party. In a run-off race two weeks ago, Gruber and Koretzki advanced to a second round of voting after winning more votes than acting mayor Shira Abin of the Labor Party and city councilwoman Dovrat Weiser, who had the backing of Rochberger.
"The residents of Ramat Hashasharon united for a new, clean kind of politics," Gruber said in his victory speech.
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court convicted Rochberger of fraud, breach of public trust, forging corporate and other documents as well as using fraudulent documents in December 2014. He was sentenced to six months of community service and to pay an NIS 40,000 fine.
In October 2013 Rochberger suspended himself as mayor pending the outcome of his trial shortly after he was reelected as mayor despite the corruption charges and the indictment against him being known by the public.
The dramatic suspension decision had come just after another dramatic decision, this one by the High Court of Justice, ruling that Rochberger was to be removed as mayor just a month before the last round of local elections in October 2013, in which he won a majority vote of 56 percent for another candidacy as mayor.
While the High Court did not formally prevent Rochberger running again for reelection, it strongly recommended he refrain from doing so – a recommendation he ignored.
Subsequently, the High Court struck a petition to refire Rochberger and two other indicted and previously fired mayors, saying that the Justice and Interior Ministries had notified it both that a new law for suspending certain indicted mayors was up and running and that they would seek to suspend the mayors.
The petition had been filed by the nongovernmental organization Movement for Quality of Government in Israel, prior to the law going into effect, to refire Bat Yam mayor Shlomo Lahiani, Rochberger and Upper Nazareth mayor Shimon Gafsou pending resolution of the indictments against each of them. Gafsou was eventually cleared of charges, while Lahiani began an eight-month prison sentence last month.