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(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
A day after Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, was publicly arrested on multiple charges of fraud bribery and embezzlement, municipal workers tried their best to present a picture of business as usual.
But there was no mistaking the underlying current of uncertainty and anxiety in the near empty building on Tuesday. Lahaini is a popular mayor in Bat Yam, credited for the rise in quality of life and public perception the city has enjoyed in recent years.
Residents would hate their improved image to be tarnished by a corruption scandal that, according to some, is already receiving too much media attention.
Outside the main entrance of the inverted pyramid shaped building, someone hung up a sign in support of the mayor.
"Shlomo Lahiani is the heart and soul of the city," read the sign sponsored by the city's aid organizations. The same sentiment was conveyed by Avner Shakratzi, a 65-year-old Bat Yam resident.
"I have been living in Bat Yam since 1973 and have personally met every mayor that has been in office during that time. Lahiani turned this city around," said Shakratzi. "When he took office this city was a joke. Comedians used to use Bat Yam as a punch line in their routines. Today it is an attractive city where many people want to live."
Shakratzi said he thinks the police are using Lachaini as a scapegoat to show that they are active, but he thinks they have the wrong man.
"Everyone saw on television how they brought out thick folders and files full of papers," he said. "A mayor that was trying to steal wouldn't be so stupid as to leave evidence in his office. If the police indeed find that he was acting illegally, I'll be the first to say he should be expelled, but until they do, their behavior is plain wrong."
The anxiety at city hall could be felt even before entering it.
Security personnel, as well as unidentified men claiming to be municipal workers, interrogated every person going into the building on their reason for being there. When encountering members of the press, they said that reporters were not allowed into the building and that the municipal spokesperson was not in her office.
The formal reaction of the municipality to the arrest is that there is no reaction.
"Everything is completely normal and we are continuing to operate as usual. City Hall will be open for service at four in the afternoon, just as it is every Tuesday," said city spokeswoman Hannah Kadosh. "There are deputy mayors around to replace Shlomo [Lachaini] until he returns, and contrary to reports in the media, everything is fine in the city."
"We do not comment of the mayor's personal matters, but when he is released, he will address the press himself," she added.
Back on the street, Bat Yam residents were happy to provide more insights than those supplied by the city. An exchange of opinions at a local taxi station, where several of the drivers were taking their break, represented the mixed feelings among the people.
"Listen, there is no politician in this whole country who got where he is without doing something. I don't know exactly what this guy did, but you can be sure he's not the only one," said 42-year-old Hezi Shasha.
"Forget about it, this whole thing will blow over," interrupted one of the other drivers. "The police decided to attack him for no reason. He did things for this city that no one else did and people are just jealous of his success. Sure they'll find something to pin on him, but it's too bad because he put Bat Yam on the map. Who would have come here if it wasn't for him?"
"What did he do? He stole money that's what. All the politicians are corrupt," concluded Chen Elmakias before driving off after finishing his coffee.