Despite a flurry of political activity, the three declared candidates for the Jerusalem municipal elections on Wednesday all played down speculation that former Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri would enter the mayoral race. Deri threw the local political scene into a feverish state of turmoil - especially the camp of haredi candidate MK Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism, who stands to lose most by a faceoff with Deri - by voicing interest in running in the November 11 race. As news of a possible Deri run spread, Porush rushed for a late-night meeting with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to ensure that he would be the only haredi candidate in the race. For the moment, Deri, who served two years of a three-year prison term for accepting bribes, fraud, and breach of trust, is said to be awaiting a legal opinion on whether his past criminal record prevents him - as legal experts believe - from running for pubic office this year due to his recent conviction. By law, a politician who has been convicted of a crime that bears "moral turpitude" - such as Deri's offenses - cannot run for political office until a seven-year period elapses from his release from prison. That would prevent Deri from attaining office until 2009. In order to run, Deri could be forced to prove that the law does not apply to his case because the seven-year waiting period was passed after his prison term began. Some haredi observes called the speculation over Deri's "virtual candidacy" nothing more than a test of his drawing power. "It's a trial balloon to see how popular Deri is in the public," senior haredi officials said Wednesday. In the meantime, both Porush and Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat - who stands to gain the most from a race with more than one haredi candidate - put out general statements about their candidacy. "My candidacy stems from an agreement which was signed five years ago and which I declared two months ago," Porush said in a written statement. "I will run until the end and, God willing, I will win," he said, pledging to be a mayor for all sectors of Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is not just another job opportunity, but a life calling," Barkat said in a written statement. "The Lupolianski, Porush and Deri group cannot bring Jerusalem to its appropriate position as Israel's capital." A spokesman for the Israeli-Russian billionaire tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak, who is ranked at the bottom barrel of the polls, declined to comment on the speculation that Deri may enter the race. Gaydamak has been trying to court haredi residents in the city who make up one-third of Jewish voters in the capital. Last week, he declared that an annual gay pride parade would take place in the city "over his dead body." Then this week, he met with the Pope's special envoy to the Holy Land, a spokesman said. In the meantime, the speculation of a possible Deri run also proved ample fodder for political maneuvering within the Shas Party. A spokesman for party leader Eli Yishai said Wednesday that he was "completely backing" Deri's candidacy. The two men have previously had a falling out over the naturally inherent and steep competition between the current and former party leaders, and Deri's entry into local politics could be seen as a boon to Yishai. The party's council of rabbinical sages would meet a couple days after Deri decides to run in the race, a party spokesman said. As he weighs his options, Deri has one month to decide if he wants to enter the race. Candidates have until 33 days before the election to declare their candidacy, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday.

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