A challenger is born

The former chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority says he is familiar with the needs of the city. After five years of working side-by-side with the current mayor, Moshe Lion now wants to step into his shoes.

Moshe Lion (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Moshe Lion
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
About two months ago, Moshe Lion suddenly appeared on the scene as a candidate for the position of mayor of Jerusalem. His candidacy immediately affected the campaign, which then was somewhat sleepy, with Mayor Nir Barkat as the sole candidate.
Lion, a man who generally wears a smile on his face, is no stranger to the city. Having served as chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority until his resignation in July, he is familiar with the needs of the city.
In this capacity, he has been working with Barkat for the past five years – without any noticeable tension between the two. As president of this important institution, Lion has been associated with some of its largest projects.
In a visit he paid to The Jerusalem Post earlier this week, he presented his vision and answered questions for In Jerusalem.
Lion outlined his vision of what it means to be mayor of Jerusalem: “To significantly improve the quality of life of its residents, and to raise the level at least as high as it is at present in some of the largest cities in the country.”
He stressed that there was no reason his aims should not be achieved during his tenure: affordable housing, employment, education and cleanliness. He pledged to eliminate the employment of temporary teachers (there are about 2,000 at present) and instead hire long-term instructors. He promised to bring millions of tourists to the capital, but not before ensuring that the streets are clean – and accordingly said he plans to add more street cleaners to the municipality’s workforce.
Moreover, he said he would reduce school fees and substantially increase the number of students who obtain matriculation certificates. Currently Jerusalem is ranked 135 out of 150 countrywide in students who do so – though this placement is slightly higher in reality, as haredim do not sit for the bagrut exams but are nevertheless factored into the equation.
Last but not least, Lion criticized disbursements for “spectacular events,” as opposed to a municipal budget based on a strict – and better – order of priorities.
“This mayor has reduced an allotment intended to prevent high-school dropouts, from NIS 2 million to NIS 100,000.
Why?” he asked, adding that “NIS 1.5m. has been spent on the Maccabiah torch, instead of the NIS 2m. required to prevent dropouts – that is absurd. It shouldn’t happen.”Moshe Lion, you moved here from Givatayim, the city in which you were raised and lived all your life. Isn’t this an obstacle to becoming mayor of Jerusalem?
The fact that I come from another city has some advantages.
Perhaps people have gotten used to the low level of cleanliness in Jerusalem, but it can and should be different – as I know it is elsewhere. The current situation is unbearable, and if we want to bring tourists here, and for ourselves too, we badly need a clean city. We need to increase the number of sanitation workers, to sweep the city every day and, if necessary, a few times a day.
There is no reason why this city shouldn’t be the cleanest.What else?
Public transportation is another issue that needs attention.
And housing – only rich people or foreigners can afford to buy a house here, we have to lower the prices. We have to shorten the time it takes to obtain construction permits.
Beyond the simple fact of you not being a resident of this city until a few weeks ago, the residents of Jerusalem don’t know you. You didn’t go to school here, your family hasn’t been living in one of the neighborhoods. So tell us about yourself.
The first thing I can tell you about myself: As you can see, I like eating well. It’s one of my hobbies. I do a lot of sports, although regrettably, I have been doing much less for the past month – but I plan to get back to it soon. I walk, I run, I bike, especially on the bicycle circuit we have built [through the JDA] in the metropolitan parks around Jerusalem. I am a healthy man, married, father of four, with three grandchildren and one on the way. I am fond of trekking, I trek at least once a year with friends.
Where were you born?
I was born in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Yisrael neighborhood; later on my family moved to Givatayim. I did my army service in the Rabbinate Choir – music is an important part of my life.
You are also a cantor, is that right?
Yes, I used to perform as cantor in Jewish communities abroad for the High Holy Days. I even did so when I was CEO of the Prime Minister’s Office – everybody knew that then. I love liturgical music – both Sephardi and Ashkenazi.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
The treks. I also bungee jumped once.You went bungee jumping?
Yes, and also Omega and rappelling in Guatemala. I love India, trekking in India, I have done a lot of that. I travel there almost every year.How did you decide to run for Jerusalem mayor?
It was a complicated process, first within myself, a lot of thinking about what it would mean for me, for my family...
After all, I own a successful auditing firm, I am a self-made man, I have invested a lot of work to create what I have today.
It was first an intimate process and then a wider one, with my relatives and friends.Do you remember the day you made up your mind?
Yes, it was about three months ago. I felt I had reached a clear conclusion, that it was feasible for me. At the same time, several people approached me about the matter – very varied people, from different backgrounds, not only haredim or members of the Likud. Slowly, it began to take shape in my mind. Then I had to persuade my family, which was absolutely not an easy task, and then also my business partners. Once all that was achieved, I felt ready.
You have repeatedly said that to succeed as Jerusalem’s mayor, one needs to “know” how to speak to the ministers, how to use the “right language” with government officials. It sounds as if you mean that the government’s administration is basically not for the residents, and only those who know how to address them can obtain things that the citizens deserve by law. It is a very problematic declaration.
I absolutely don’t mean that. I don’t think that you need to be “chummy” with the government’s officials. But you have to talk their language.Please explain what you mean by “their language?”
It is legitimate for a mayor to request assistance from the government, it happens in other cities, and it must happen in Jerusalem. Of course, before you approach the government, you need first to organize and prioritize your budget. You must prepare all the plans and programs beforehand, in order to make your budget efficient, avoid waste, think first about the residents’ needs. Only after you’ve done that, and you have internalized that this is a city with a large number of [tax] exemptions, do you the need government’s support. So you don’t have to be anyone’s “buddy” in the government, you just have to prepare plans and take them to the government to get its support. That’s all.
The current mayor asked the government for compensation for all these exemptions, which are ruled by the state, and the answer was a resounding “no.”
Correct. I hope you didn’t think that I meant “compensation.” That is exactly what I mean when I say that a mayor should use the right language; you don’t ask for a compensation, it doesn’t