kadima 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In what is being seen as its first local test after winning national elections last March, Givatayim's 44,000 eligible voters go to the polls on Tuesday to choose a new mayor after former mayor Effi Stenzler was appointed to head the Jewish National Fund.
The vote, which marks Kadima's first municipal race, is being watched closely to see if the Kadima brand can still win over voters, despite the low showing in the polls of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government following the war in Lebanon.
To secure victory, Kadima has pulled out all the stops. Though legally barred from supporting candidate Reuven Ben-Shachar financially, and severely limited in fund-raising by strict campaign-finance regulations, it is lending its wholehearted political support.
Even the campaign slogan declares: "Reuven Ben-Shachar will lead Givatayim forward [Kadima]."
One of the architects of Kadima's founding, public relations expert Eyal Arad, has personally supervised the campaign, which focused on mobilizing volunteers due to the legal limits on funding.
In addition, the party's senior leadership, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On and Vice Premier Shimon Peres, have paid visits to Givatayim over the past month to canvass support from residents and provide backing to their candidate.
Though Givatayim has voted for Labor candidates in local and national elections for over three decades, it went for Kadima in the last national election, when Peres lost the race for Labor leader and moved to the new party. Octogenarian Peres's support is considered key to taking Givatayim, the city with the oldest population in Israel.
Ben-Shachar, however, is not the front-runner in the race. According to a poll conducted on the eve of the election by a local news Web site, Givatayim.net, Labor candidate Iris Avraham is in the lead, with Ben-Shachar trailing closely behind. These figures were confirmed to The Jerusalem Post when a member of the Ben-Shachar campaign said they were expecting a second round of elections that would decide between Avraham and Ben-Shachar.
According to the Givatayim.net poll, conducted by phone among 500 randomly chosen households in the city, Avraham took 23 percent of the vote, Ben-Shachar 19%, Likud candidate Yoram Ran 13% and independent candidate Tali Argaman trailed with 12%.
However, the Web site editors note, over one-third of respondents were undecided, and many more said they were not interested enough to actually go to the voting booths and cast their ballot. Therefore, the elections would most likely be decided by the turnout rate, they said.
Avraham, who has been acting mayor since Stenzler's resignation some two months ago, has conducted a campaign focused on demonstrating she is mayoral material. To that end, the Labor campaign has focused on keeping her in the public eye as acting mayor and making her more accessible to residents. Her personal cellular phone number was prominently displayed in posters and flyers distributed to Givatayim residents.
The victor in the race will be mayor for only two years before facing a new election for the next five-year term. But, as one Ben-Shachar adviser told the Post at the beginning of the campaign, the expectation is that "whoever wins now will win in 2008 as well."