Moshe Lion's win brings in the dawn of a new era for Jerusalem

"I’ve been elected, now I need to work," says new Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

Moshe Lion (L) and Ofer Berkotich (R) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Moshe Lion (L) and Ofer Berkotich (R)
Mayor Moshe Lion met with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Monday evening to discuss next year’s budget for the city. This step may help prevent a rerun of the street battles former mayor Nir Barkat waged against Kahlon in order to obtain the tremendous sums necessary.
Jerusalem’s 2018 budget stood at NIS 9 billion (NIS 6b. for the operating budget and NIS 3b. more for infrastructure projects) – not including the NIS 2b. added by Jerusalem Affairs and Environmen- tal Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin six months ago, at the launch of his campaign. There is broad agreement that Jerusalem needs a large budget and that the city cannot, as other cities do, suffice on its arnona (city taxes) revenues. Lion emphasized during the campaign that he would seek additional significant sources of income, explain- ing that the city, even though it is the capital, couldn’t go on relying mostly on government support. The meeting between Lion and Kahlon reflected Lion’s general direction – to leverage his good relations with politicians (ministers) and the high-ranking officials in the ministries in order to move forward on his vision for the next five years. Another priority for Lion is to build a stable coalition – a tough task for him, since he has no list in the council to rely on.
He needs a coalition for the coming month in order to present his budget for 2019. By law, this is the only task that he needs a majority of votes at the city council for; otherwise, he can remain mayor even without a council majority. Some of the non-haredi lists are trying to form a bloc in the council. In the words of Yehuda Ben Yossef (Jerusalem will Succeed), “We are going to make his [Lion’s] life miserable.” Another new city council member, who asked not to be identified, said that the main aim is to make Lion understand that he must offer something significant to the non-haredi councillors: appoint at least two non-haredi members as salaried deputy mayors.) Ben Yossef says that Hitorerut’s seven seats, Yossi Havilio’s seat, Meretz’s seat and his own seat, plus perhaps even Elisha Peleg’s Likud seat – altogether 11 seats – “won’t be enough to overthrow Lion, but it will surely make things more than difficult for him.” The major goal is to prevent Lion from relying on the haredi and religious seats only (altogether 18 seats with six for Degel Hatorah, three for Agudat Yisrael, five for Shas, two for Arieh King’s Meuhad- im and two for Bayit Yehudi) so he cannot disregard the needs and the interests of the non-haredi residents.
Scheduled to present his coalition at the first council meeting on December 4, Lion is in a race against the clock, trying to forge alliances to bring as many city council members as possible to his camp. In Jerusalem asked Lion and his rival Ofer Berkovitch a few questions regarding their plans. Lion responded late last week.
How would you summarize your campaign and its outcome?
Lion: Please don’t ask me again about my ties with Avigdor Liberman or Arye Deri, I’ve been elected, now I need to work.
Which parties are you asking to join you?
All of them. I want to have the largest possible coalition. I don’t disqualify anyone.
How are you going to satisfy so many parties. After all, you already promised some portfolios to potential partners before the elections.
It is too early to say. Things are dynamic. We’re in the middle of negotiations, and we still have time to complete them.
What is your feeling? During the campaign, and particularly between the two rounds, things sometimes became harsh. Are you worried you might have to face tough moments?
I am not concerned. After all, the mayor sets the tone and the direction. I invite all city councillors to be part of the coalition.
If there are some who don’t join, that’s their choice. How will you handle not having a list of your own in the council?
It is meaningless. I need a coalition of at least 17 members – which I already have. The rest is meaningless. On Monday morning, Ofer Berkovitch also answered a few questions.
If we ask you to summarize the campaign, what would you emphasize? Berkovitch: It was an amazing campaign, with an unprecedented mobilization of thousands of residents who went from door to door, knocking and urging peo- ple to go to vote.
Hitorerut and I proved that we had a vision for Jerusalem. We managed to reach and bring together people from diverse backgrounds and sectors; that’s a significant achievement. We showed that there is room for another social message here in Jerusalem, one that should be highly regarded by all politicians. We chose to put aside differences and emphasize what we share in common.
The final gap between you and Moshe Lion was a small one – merely 3,000 votes. How is this significant?
Of course, if a few thousand more had come to vote, it could have been different. But I want to say that if somebody doesn’t come to vote, he in fact, chooses a camp. On one side we had residents and activists engaged, and on the other side there was a mass movement following orders from rabbis. I have full respect for rabbis, but it’s a different situation. One thing that should be clarified or looked into is the negative campaign waged against us – and against me personally [for example, accusing him of being sup- ported and financed by the New Israel Fund]. Things like this are nothing less than a threat to our democracy. There were a few very grave issues and though it will not lead to a new election, I think it is crucial to clarify this matter.
What’s next?
We feel surrounded by love and support from large groups of Jerusalemites – those who believed in us and chose us instead of the deals set high above our heads between politicians. That’s first. We are the largest council list; from there we will continue to promote our ideas and plans and serve Jerusalemites. I plan to con tinue to enhance our good ties with the hassidim [in particular, Agudat Yisrael] and the new haredim [who work] and work with them hand in hand.
And five years from now?
It is too early to say. Some say that I should run again and win – this is a serious possibility for the future. For the moment I am here to serve the residents of Jerusa- lem from my present position. Time will tell.