Corridors of power: Running mates

With Pepe Allalu and Meir Margalit competing in the Meretz leadership race, the small party is no longer presenting a united front.

Pepe Allalu (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Pepe Allalu
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
If heaven could be described as a place where friendship and solidarity are the bases for the rules, the intimate and very united atmosphere that prevailed among the members of the local Meretz party was the closest thing to it.
However, good things do sometimes come to an end.
Meretz, represented on the city council since 1987, has always been a small but well-organized group. Even the split that occurred under the late Ornan Yekutieli’s leadership during the 1993-1998 city council hasn’t really put its resilience under serious threat, while, on the other hand, the group has never managed to become a realistic option for leadership of the city. For most of the time, Meretz was in the opposition, with brief participation as a member of the coalition. The question is how many residents do they really represent? In other words, the group’s real power in the city has never been put to a serious test – at least so far. Observers on the local political scene agree that the improbability of Meretz being a party on the city council and the even less likelihood of there being a Meretz candidate for mayor could explain the rare and remarkable solidarity among its members.
Well, these may be their last days in that capacity, as a new era is dawning on the small organization with the dramatic decision of Meretz leader on the city council Deputy Mayor Pepe Allalu. For various reasons, he and the city’s residents are convinced that the time is ripe for a bold change, under the leadership of a sort of legendary local figure, a part of the city’s human landscape, a man of principles – Allalu himself as the next mayor. This is not the first time the idea has crossed Allalu’s mind, but this time he says he is going for “all or nothing.” If he is not elected as Meretz’s candidate for mayor, he will quit the political scene completely.
But Allalu is not alone in the race.
His comrade in the party for many years, Councillor Meir Margalit, is also running for the leadership of Meretz in the city on April 29, but with one difference: Margalit has no intention of running for mayor. But Margalit’s candidacy has created a new situation, to which Allalu could not help but raise the ante – and hence, run for mayor.
Among quite a few members of the Meretz party in the city, embarrassment and confusion are mild terms to describe their feelings. Voting for either of the two men would end up sending one of them back home forever, and nobody wants to be part of that maneuver, and the members and supporters feel that the whole move is a wrong one. “We have many other important goals to achieve in this city than to fight among ourselves,” summarized a veteran member of the party.
As for the candidates themselves? Well, they both seem to be convinced that they are doing the right thing.
Allalu says that after almost three terms as head of Meretz on the city council, heading a group that has worked together in harmony as a real team, he has something to offer on the real playing field.
“In politics, you don’t run only to achieve your goal of being elected; you run because you want to present the public with your positions and your vision. Otherwise, parties like Meretz would never have gotten into politics. Remember Ehud Olmert? Didn’t he dare to challenge a living legend, the great Teddy Kollek, and ultimately win? So why not me?” As for Margalit, he seems not only less sure about Allalu’s victory, but he is also trying to lower expectations as much as possible, reducing the whole affair to a simple but legitimate desire to present himself and his capacities to the voters, also after three terms on the city council.
Well aware of the eventual impact of his deep involvement with Arab residents’ rights and affairs, which may, even among some Meretz voters, be an obstacle, Margalit is very cautious. “I have not even tried to register Arab residents as Meretz members, although that could have easily won me hundreds of supporters. But I had no choice, under the circumstances, than to announce that I, too, would run the whole nine yards. Either I am elected as head of the party or I will quit, I regret to say.”