Corridors of Power: Reshuffling the council

"This is Jerusalem, the capital, where even planting a tree can have both international and political implications."

Meir Turgeman
As of next week, significant changes will be implemented in the division of functions among city council members who are also deputy mayors, according to new coalition agreements.
In another city, in other times, this would warrant no more than a short item on a local news board. But this is Jerusalem, the capital, where even planting a tree can have both international and political implications – hence the need to examine the background, causes and the predictable (as well as unpredictable) effects of this reshuffling.
At the city council meeting at the end of September, Mayor Nir Barkat’s unhappy rival in the 2013 election, Moshe Lion, officially joined the benches of the mayor’s coalition. At the October 29 council meeting, Lion was set to become the president of the local neighborhood councils and community centers committee; this was made possible when Lion joined the municipality’s board of directors last month. For some Safra Square sources, this is another significant step towards tactical deployment of Barkat’s personal agenda, particularly if rumors about his plan to move forward in the national political sphere prove to be right.
Officially, this realignment comes as the result of the decision of former deputy mayor Koby Kahlon (brother of Moshe) to resign from the council. But in politics, even an official reason can become an opportunity to tackle additional issues. For observers who are convinced that Barkat is preparing his departure from the city’s leadership for a position in the next national government, this is a first step in that direction: deploying his closest allies in the most sensitive spots of the municipality.
For those who believe that Barkat hasn’t yet made such a decision, this might be simply an opportunity for him to clearly designate who he relies on, and who he disregards.
The closest person to Barkat today in the city’s top ranks is an ex-foe: Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman. Four years ago, Barkat didn’t hesitate to ask the police to expel Turgeman from a council meeting (the police couldn’t implement the request, Turgeman being a councilman), but today, Turgeman is Barkat’s righthand man. He will become, as of November 1, the president of the most important council committee: the planning and construction committee.
Traditionally, being president of that sensitive – and powerful – panel paves the way to the next career step: the mayor’s seat. It was certainly true for former mayor Uri Lupolianski, and almost true for Yehoshua Pollack, who was for a while designated to be mayor after Lupolianski (until the halachic authority at the time, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, decided otherwise and chose another candidate).
But there is more. While Turgeman made it clear he would not consider running as long as Barkat was in the post, in a recent conversation with this journalist he also didn’t hide that in the long run he would present his candidacy for mayor.
Turgeman is not the only the only councilman who hopes to become mayor.
In addition to Lion, who hasn’t officially announced his plan to run after Barkat leaves, another deputy mayor cherishes the same dream: Ofer Berkowitz, co-founder and leader of Hitorerut.
Berkowitz, who has taken upon himself the duty of reviving the cultural life of the city, with an emphasis on the needs and tastes of young adults, holds the Culture portfolio. He has gained significant support for his dedication to bring about change and has achieved meaningful results, but the culture and young adult programs, as essential as they are, do not pave the way to Safra Square’s largest office.
In the near future, perhaps even before the end of this administration’s tenure in 2018, Turgeman – a master in political survival – will prove to be a very tough rival mayoral candidate for both Lion and Berkowitz. While it is not clear whether Barkat has made any promise to Lion’s powerful patron, MK Avigdor Liberman, to support Lion, clearly Barkat has no plan to support Berkowitz. For the moment at least.