Teddy Kollek, who died at the age of 95 yesterday, wasn't just Jerusalem's eminently capable mayor during its significant transformation from a dead-end municipality - with its back against its cutoff-half under Arab control - to a thriving reunified city. Not only Jerusalemites, but this entire nation shared the serendipitous fortune of having Kollek there to oversee his unique city's affairs at its most crucial and trying times.
The 'Post' pays tribute to Teddy Kollek
Kollek converted Jerusalem from a sleepy backwater to Israel's vibrant capital. But his greatness resided not only in contending with obviously grand tasks. His success to no small measure sprang from his earthy no-nonsense emphasis on the minutest of details and the most unglamorous of daily chores - "household work," as he dubbed them. Nothing was too lowly or mundane for Kollek to trouble himself with.
Indeed under his 28-year stewardship, beginning in 1965, Jerusalem functioned better than it had previously and incomparably better than it did as soon as he lost his seventh re-election bid, at age 82, to Ehud Olmert.
It wasn't that Kollek, his personal charisma notwithstanding, was a magician. He was incontrovertibly a hard worker. For him running Jerusalem wasn't a stepping stone to higher office, nor a no-other-alternative political shelter.
Kollek was undeniably one of a breed of legendary mayors, intensely involved in the seemingly most trivial aspects of municipal affairs. His was a tradition perhaps begun by Tel Aviv's Meir Dizengoff, and carried on after the state's founding by such legendary mayors as Ramat Gan's Avraham Krinitzi and Holon's Pinhas Eylon. These mayors knew where every garbage truck was at any given time of day, which streets had been swept and where pruned foliage needed to be raked and collected.
Decades ago, Kollek told The Jerusalem Post that if the "streets aren't kept clean, if city employees don't do their jobs and if the public doesn't get prompt and polite responses, then nothing else matters. Impressive policies and ambitious politics are fine, as long as the city's nitty-gritty is seen to. That is the basis, the bread-and-butter. The rest is the jam, and sometimes the caviar."
Kollek was true to his word. He watched over his city as a homeowner looks after his private property. When the Black Panthers of the 1970s demonstrated, he emerged from his office in a great huff and vociferously ordered them off the grass. He didn't want the new city lawns to get trampled.
During his tenure Jerusalem became greener than it had ever been, but he didn't merely mandate a policy that called for more planting. He cared about each garden plot. Kollek, renowned for napping through countless public functions, was always quick to announce that he "never slept through anything really important. Whatever needs attention gets it."
He could be irascible and loud when goaded, but he could also be the ultimate cultivated charmer. He adopted whatever mode of conduct he judged most effective in a given situation, with his Jerusalem and what's best for it being inexorably his highest priority.
Kollek was the last surviving mayor of his kind. He was undoubtedly the antithesis of the sort of mayor currently envisioned by Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, who is proposing that mayors disengage from the daily running of their municipalities, that they no longer be in executive charge of city council functions, that they be figurehead representatives of their cities and advocate future development blueprints, rather than get knee-deep into the local nitty-gritty - as Kollek so energetically and relentlessly did.
The fact that a great many of the country's mayors, headed by Union of Local Authorities Chairman Karmiel Mayor Adi Eldar, reject Bar-On's proposal out of hand perhaps offers best testimony to the fact that Kollek's model is still the one to which today's mayors aspire - even if few manage to emulate Kollek's tireless dedication to maintenance minutiae while simultaneously not losing sight of the broader vista, which for Kollek ranged from looking after the Arab sections of east Jerusalem to erecting the Israel Museum.
No task was too humble and none too out of reach.
Kollek is indeed a hard act to follow.