(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
One of Arkadi Gaydamak's closest advisers has acknowledged that the oligarch plans to be deeply involved in next year's municipal elections in Jerusalem, but it's unlikely he'll actually run for mayor. The day-to-day business of running the city is not the kind of thing he's interested in. His participation will probably manifest itself in the form of an ad-hoc party that will win seats in the city council and hopefully hold the balance of power and provide the major donations and backing for whatever mayoral candidate he believes will do his bidding.
Interviews Gaydamak gave on Monday announcing his candidacy for mayor against incumbent Uri Lupolianski should be seen more as his attempt to get back at Lupolianski for canceling the veterans' march through the city center. Gaydamak sees this as a double personal snub to him. Not only did Lupolianski mess with a pet project of his, but he dared to defy him on what he now treats as his own turf.
"I have no doubt that the entire city will vote for me," the billionaire said in one interview on Monday. "There's not one person who is not familiar today with Gaydamak and what he is capable of."
"Jerusalem is a symbol for the Jewish people and I plan to turn it into a symbol for peace and Judaism," he added.
Gaydamak can literally be said to have spread his largess the length and breadth of the country over the last few years, but it is in Jerusalem that he has invested above all. First he bankrolled the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, and then he purchased the most evocative local symbol, the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club. Lupolianski might have thought that riding along with Gaydamak in an open car during the Jerusalem Day Parade two years ago was recognition enough, but Gaydamak is after much more.
Despite not even being a resident of the city, Gaydamak believes that it is the place that can give him the highest visibility on the national and international scene and cost him much less than a campaign in the national elections. Besides, it might be another three years until the next general election takes place.
The only problem until now was that Gaydamak had no clear agenda or vision to offer the city's voters. The millions he poured into Beitar might have endeared him to many, but it still isn't much of a platform to run for city hall on. By falling out with him, Lupolianski has offered him one.
The biggest challenge facing a potential mayoral candidate is whether it is at all possible to bring enough secular and national-religious voters to the polls in order to overcome Lupolianski's haredi bloc. The ultra-Orthodox might not yet be a majority in Jerusalem, but when they are all mobilized by order of their rabbis behind one candidate, it's almost impossible to beat them.
The Jerusalem-based millionaire, Nir Barkat, discovered that during the last elections and has been languishing ever since in the opposition. Former police chief Mickey Levy is being mentioned as a possible candidate next year, but his team fears it won't be able to raise the kind of money it will take to mount the necessary media campaign to bring in the votes.
Gaydamak has the money, and if he is really determined to punish Lupolianski, Levy could be just the vehicle he's looking for. Being linked with Levy, the most popular police officer in the country, could be useful to Gaydamak for other purposes, as he is still under investigation for money laundering.
Whether or not Levy and Gaydamak join forces, it's already clear that the contest for mayor next year is going to be the most competitive and expensive municipal elections in Israel's history.