There is a war in Jerusalem. So far, the only casualties registered are a few bruises to the egos of some of the parties involved. But things might become more severe and the outcome is still unclear. One thing is sure: The two main protagonists in this new struggle are - what a surprise - former colleagues.
When Mayor Nir Barkat was still not sure that the best way to improve things in the city was to go the political route, he would discuss his thoughts and ideas with Tzvika Tchernichovsky, the CEO of the Jerusalem Association for Community Centers (Hevra Lematnasim) in Jerusalem and strongman of the neighborhood administrations, an institution created by Teddy Kollek to enhance a decentralization process in the city.
A few years passed, Barkat made a choice and was elected mayor. Kollek was gone, and with him the courage to make room for emerging new leaders. Neither Ehud Olmert nor Uri Lupolianski liked the idea of strong and popular neighborhood chairmen who could challenge their decisions. When Lupolianski tried to minimize Tchernichovsky's power, the head of the opposition on the city council, Barkat, fought for him and won him a few more years of power.
Barkat didn't like Lupolianski's initiative because he feared that the move was intended to give more power to the haredi chairmen of the neighborhood administrations. He never thought that avoiding free elections of the boards of these neighborhood administrations was a good thing for the residents. Tchernichovsky knew it was a good idea but disregarded it at the time.
Now both Barkat and city councillor Rahel Azaria, in charge of the neighborhood administrations, are working hard to launch a process of elections in the neighborhood centers (30 altogether) for the first time in more than 15 years. Both sides agree to have elections but disagree on all the other issues: when, how and who should be in charge.
Tchernichovsky claims that only his organization has the knowledge and the tools to do it. Barkat says that free elections are the sole objective, and the organization is only a tool.
As a result, Barkat has decided to close down the association (according to the rules, he is its chairman) and to create within the municipality a department that will be in charge of organizing the elections in five neighborhoods for the coming six months and to manage their activities afterward.
In an interview the mayor gave to In Jerusalem a few weeks ago, he announced his intention to hire a lobbyist whose task would be to convince the government to translate its admiration for the capital into special budgets.
A tender for the project was recently published, and the Gilead Administration and Lobbying company was selected for the mission. The association, which also represents Channel 10 and led the campaign for compulsory helmets for bicycle riders, will receive NIS 111,000 (from taxpayers) for its first main task: to retrieve the NIS 30 million that this government cut from the special Jerusalem Grant.
"Mayor Barkat had to admit he is still not well known enough in the corridors of the government, certainly compared to Olmert. So there was no other choice than to call in the professionals; and the deal is not so bad - NIS 111,000 for NIS 30m. is more than fair," says a source close to the mayor.