A candidacy and its ripple effect

‘In Jerusalem’ gets real with Kobi Kahlon, who is strongly considering joining the mayoral race.

Kobi Kahlon
The political arena was already crowded with seven mayoral candidates, but while observers were assessing the effect of the candidacy of Jerusalem Affairs and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a new name was thrown in the ring – and it has pundits scrambling.
Kobi Kahlon, former deputy mayor and head of the local planning and construction committee, has not yet gone public regarding his plans to join the race, but close friends and assistants have been busy spreading the word that a declaration is imminent. So far, Kahlon hasn’t denied it and has carefully avoided being interviewed on the matter, but earlier this week, he nevertheless agreed to answer a few pertinent questions from In Jerusalem.
He opened Monday’s phone interview saying, “I will not make any decision before we end the month of mourning for my late mother, but it is true that the issue came up during the shiva, as the house was packed with family, friends and others discussing it. Listening to people from across the country with a broad range of backgrounds and views, one sentence particularly struck me.
“One of my Jerusalemite friends said, ‘Kobi, it would be irresponsible of you not to take on responsibility for Jerusalem.’” You’ve decided to return to Safra Square, this time as the mayor, despite your decision to quit the city council and your position as deputy mayor three years ago? Not yet, but the issue has been raised. I have been thinking about it intensively and have been consulting with my closest friends, but I will not act hastily. Moreover, I believe the right thing to do is to wait until we complete the mourning month for my mother before making a decision.
When can we expect an official announcement of any kind? June 29 will mark the end of the mourning. I will reach a decision by then and announce it to the public.
Can you give us a clue as to which direction it will go? Truly, I have not yet made up my mind; there are many aspects to consider. One thing I can tell you is that I can’t get that statement that I heard at the shiva out of my mind [noted above, about responsibility].
However, the one decision I did make is to weigh everything carefully and make no announcement before the end of the month.”
KAHLON REFUSED to say anything further on the topic, but some of his closest friends agreed to speak about it.
“Kobi is not a politician in the usual sense,” says one former close associate of Kahlon.
“If elected, he will work hard and well. He will take care of the city and the residents’ interests. No politics, no intrigues and no eye on an eventual further step in national politics; he is not interested in that at all. What he does care about is doing his job – planning, constructing, promoting and seeing that this city goes the right way. That’s all.”
He adds that during his seven years at city council, Kahlon left his mark on some of the most important projects in the city. “But he sees how, since his departure from the city council, too many of his projects have been halted and blocked by those who remained after him. That hurts him a lot. He understands that unless he is back and involved, things will continue to crumble.”
Some of the largest projects in the city are indeed the result of Kahlon’s plans and vision for the development of the capital – the First Station, roads and bridges throughout, and the city entrance project, which will forever change the look of Jerusalem’s western side and will radically boost the city’s economy.
WHILE KAHLON associates and friends are optimistic about an eventual decision to run for mayor, others are less enthusiastic. The haredim at city council are expressing anger and fear, recalling that Kahlon was not ready to accede to some of their requests. One observer commented, “Kobi understood their real needs in terms of housing and educational institutions, but it was not easy to put any political pressure on him. He has no political future in his mind, so no one could threaten him on this.”
Asked which of the leading candidates they would support, city councilman Itzhak Pindrus says that in no case would the haredim join Kahlon. “He will be a wonderful candidate in our eyes, though, because he will obviously further split the non-haredi votes, a situation that would benefit us.”
Asked if that means that a decision to run a haredi candidate has moved forward, Pindrus responded,“Not yet, but supporting Kahlon is out of the question.
“A Kahlon candidacy could have a ripple effect, though, boosting those in the haredi sector who believe that the more the seculars fight among themselves, the greater our chances to win these elections with a haredi candidate.”
Among the “pluralist” candidates – Ofer Berkovitch, Yossi Havilio, Avi Salman and MK Nachman Shai – there is no doubt that an eventual Kahlon candidacy – with the powerful backing of his brother, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and the probable support of at least part of the Likud’s local branch (Kulanu came out of the Likud and in many aspects, is still part of the same constituency) – poses a serious threat to their chances.
“The candidates will have to decide who has the best chances, put their ego aside and back that person,” says a prominent activist and member of the Likud Central Committee.
“Most of the leading candidates are linked, one way or another, with the Likud, so they must vie for the support of the same reservoir of residents.
It would be foolish to run separately, so they will have to decide. If Kahlon officially joins the race, the moment to make that decision will have arrived.”