An upbeat election day

Incumbent Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat celebrates another five-year term in office.

Nir Barkat celebrates election victory 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Nir Barkat celebrates election victory 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Around 3:30 on Wednesday morning, Nir Barkat arrived at a post-election celebration in a local Jerusalem nightclub and delivered his victory speech in front of hundreds of fervent supporters, who had gathered to celebrate his reelection as Jerusalem’s mayor for another five-year term.
An hour earlier, Barkat’s opponent Moshe Lion conceded defeat in a toughly contested race, which saw Barkat win by a 6-percent margin, or a gap of around 12,000 votes.
In his speech, Barkat dubbed the true victor in the election the city of Jerusalem itself, and expressed his gratitude to his family, his supporters and the residents of Jerusalem, who “gave us a mandate for five more years to continue with our vision, and on our path.”
With confetti floating in the air and champagne corks popping, team Barkat deservingly danced the night away. The lengthy campaign was surely intense, with perhaps the final 24 hours – election day itself – being the most straining.
Barkat started his election day at around dawn on Tuesday, seizing this final opportunity to garner as many votes as possible. The mayor was accompanied by a large entourage that included his wife, Beverly, and their three daughters; and dozens of election staffers, volunteer supporters and members of the press.
“How are you holding up?” this reporter asked the mayor at around noon, following a jam-packed morning, as Barkat exited Talpiot’s Hadar Mall, where he was busy greeting shoppers and mall employees, posing for pictures and encouraging everyone in earshot to get out to vote.
But before he could respond to the question, something caught the mayor’s eye – a piece of trash, an old newspaper, littering the sidewalk. Without thinking twice, the mayor bent down and picked it up. “Not in my city,” he said as he folded up the paper, looking for a proper receptacle in which to dispose of it.
While Jerusalem is perhaps the most contentious piece of real estate in the world, for the town’s residents, hundreds of whom Barkat would interact with throughout election day, Jerusalem is simply “home.”
It’s therefore not surprising that most of those whom Barkat encountered, whether supporters or detractors – with the overwhelmingly majority of people along the day’s route unabashedly in support of the mayor – seemed to use their few seconds of Barkat’s attention to thank him for a job well done, or to offer their unsolicited advice for additional ways in which he can continue to improve or beautify their city.
Seventeen-year-old Aviv S., a student at the Hebrew University High School in Givat Ram, warmly greeted the mayor before she headed to class, on his first stop of the day around 7:30 a.m. “Mayor Barkat has done so much for the youth in this city,” she says, guaranteeing that the mayor has her vote. “He does everything for the residents of Jerusalem, and has such a power of influence.”
As other students gathered around Barkat for photo ops, he asked them, “So what did you think of last night’s game?” referring to Beitar Jerusalem’s 1-0 defeat of arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv at an overflowing Teddy Stadium in the capital the night before.
The game itself was intertwined with politics, as both Barkat and Lion were in attendance trying to woo voters while rooting for the home team.
“Before last night, I had never even seen Lion at Teddy [Stadium] in the past 15 years,” quipped one Barkat supporter and Beitar faithful who was seated at an outdoor table in the shade, as the entourage noshed on assorted salads during a stop on Emek Refaim Street.
Barkat’s campaign was entrenched with “Beitar football” as soccer legend Eli Ohana, who was No. 10 on Barkat’s “Jerusalem Will Succeed” municipal list and was accompanying the mayor for the day.
Also present to show his backing was new Beitar owner Eli Tabib. “Barkat is good for the city,” said Tabib, with both men attracting their own share of attention from supporters.
As helpings of humous- and tehina-topped felafel balls were being passed out, one of the waiters accidentally spilled a dish of sauce directly on the mayor’s head, covering him and his clothes. The mayor remained fully composed, saying, “Every Jerusalemite who has humous fall on them, it is a sign of mazal [good luck],” to a round of laughter. With the stains on his shirt setting in, a Barkat staffer prepared a back-up shirt for the mayor to change into before getting on the minibus and moving on to the next stop.
But before leaving, an elderly religious woman approached the mayor to offer him a blessing for good luck. Identifying herself as Tikva Aloni, a resident of the haredi Geula neighborhood, Aloni said she was grateful “for the improvements I have seen in my neighborhood under Barkat, including new parks with benches, and playground equipment for the children.”
She added, “I don’t care in this race about which candidate is religious or not, but about what’s being done to improve our city.”
Earlier in the day, Barkat – not relying on the luck of spilled humous or supporters’ personal blessings – took the time to pray and recite psalms for his success with a visit to the Western Wall, facilitated by his rabbi, Shmuel Zafrani, the head of the Kiryat Moshe-based Ameri Hesder Yeshiva.
Zafrani explained that he has been studying with Barkat in a hevruta every Friday morning for the past nine years. “When I started learning with Nir, I saw someone who put aside his business ventures in order to help improve the city, particularly in the realm of education,” he said.
Zafrani added, “Today’s world is all about money, but I saw a spiritual side in Nir. He’s the kind of person who does what’s best for the public good before even considering himself. Nir is here to give, not to get. The country would be very different if there were more like him.”
Greeting Barkat as he made his way to the Wall was a group of national-religious yeshiva students, who danced and sang as they accompanied Barkat to the Western Wall Plaza.
They arrived at the Western Wall, then it was back to Barkat’s home neighborhood of Beit Hakerem. There, a throng of videoand photojournalists awaited, crammed into a polling station within a local community center classroom, where Barkat and his family were slated to stop to cast their ballots.
But outside in the courtyard, a group of about 20 panicked seniors who apparently were driven by a Barkat volunteer to the wrong polling station saw the mayor approaching. One of the women in the group did not hesitate to voice her complaint about the mishap straight to man at the top.
She explained to Barkat what had happened, and the mayor immediately directed a staffer to investigate the matter in order to make sure that the group is able to cast their votes.
Others throughout the day also had no problem articulating their concerns to the city’s highest elected official. “We need two more benches here,” insisted an older woman to Barkat, on the outskirts of a Kiryat Hayovel park during a campaign stop.
The mayor, who obviously wouldn't be able to accommodate the request on the spot, especially on election day, said his office would consider the matter.
But overall, at additional stops – whether in the center of town, Pisgat Ze’ev, Givat Mordechai, or other neighborhoods – the mayor drew a crowd of supporters offering handshakes and hugs, with many asking him to pose with them for pictures, and some immediately uploading them to their social media pages and feeds.
Late in the afternoon, the mayor headed to his Mamilla-based party headquarters accompanied by a gradually growing press corps, to give them a tour of the facility as well as to encourage his dedicated volunteers to keep up their hard work.
While the mayor’s pollsters used the latest technology to deliver an up-to-the-second report on the status of voter turnout that was displayed on large monitors, the volunteers continued hitting the phones, urging identified supporters to make sure they cast their votes, while also continuing to organize complimentary transportation to the polls, especially for the elderly community. There was still time to bring in votes, as the polls closed at 10 p.m.
Barkat was then encouraged by his staff to get a little bit of rest, anticipating a long night ahead.