Sweetening the pot

As a new law allows extra deputy mayors in large cities, who would be the best addition in the capital?

Rachel Azaria 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rachel Azaria 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Once in a while, a mayor’s job can turn into an embarrassing prize ceremony. It is reminiscent of the old days, when our parents still believed that a child who “behaved” him- or herself deserved a candy. In our present case, the “good child” could be one of at least five city council members, one of them head of the opposition.
And the candy is the title of deputy mayor, which comes with a nice NIS 45,000 (at least) monthly salary. So who are the kids, why do they (or one of them at least) deserve the candy and why is there a chance that there may not be any distribution of sweets at all? It all started at the Knesset, where Shas MKs were looking for a way to restore the title of deputy mayor – and the salary – to their representatives on the city council, since the last elections cut their seats from five to four, and Mayor Nir Barkat did not appoint any of them to the position. The four local Shas representatives knew that fierce efforts were being made for them behind the scenes and waited more or less patiently. The idea was to revive an old amendment to the municipality’s rules, arguing that a large city like Jerusalem deserved more deputies than smaller cities.
Over the months, city council member Shlomo Attias ran out of patience (with 12 children to feed, not difficult to understand) and left the council for a comfortable position as director of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter. His colleague, Eli Simhayof, suspected of corruption in the Holyland affair, didn’t seem to stand a chance but ultimately obtained the title a few weeks ago, despite a roar of indignation from the opposition benches, following the departure of Meretz from the coalition, as Pepe Allalu’s armchair – and salary – was available and Simhayof became the sixth deputy mayor.
In the Ashkenazi haredi ranks, things seemed a little gloomy at first. With a drop from nine to eight members, United Torah Judaism, led by Yitzhak Pindrus, had to make do with only one deputy mayor (Pindrus himself), who signed a rotation agreement with his peer, Yossi Deitsch.
Pindrus was already busy looking for another job when the news of the passage of the law allowing up to eight deputy mayors in the capital reached him, and he is the first to admit that he still can’t wipe the big grin off his face. Not only does he not have to give up the title, but Deitsch is now the seventh deputy mayor (and on the payroll). By now, Barkat was left with the huge lollipop from Act I to give out. And surprise, surprise – there are at least five candidates (four of them in their own eyes), and the bidding is open.
The only one who does not consider himself a candidate is, according to sources at Kikar Safra, the one Barkat that would love to see at his side.
Pepe Allalu, Meretz leader and until seven months ago deputy mayor, is the favorite, for obvious reasons. If Allalu returns to the coalition, he will lose all his credibility and will have no chance of being taken seriously in the next election (two and a half years from now.) So Allalu is being courted but swears that he won’t be seduced. The four others are all heads of oneperson parties and thus do not fulfill the minimum quota required for a deputy mayor (which now stands standing at three city council members for a deputy mayor). But on top of that, all of them are in the mayor’s hands anyway, meaning that according to the tough rules of politics, why should he bother at all? Nevertheless, the talk at Kikar Safra is that an eighth deputy can be designated with no harm to the city coffers, since both Barkat and David Hadari (deputy mayor for Habayit Hayehudi) do not receive a salary. So that leaves us with three – Yair Gabai from Habayit Hayehudi (not on speaking terms with Hadari); Elisha Peleg (Likud representative); and Rachel Azaria, leader of Yerushalmim.
But besides the fact that Peleg has always been in favor of many deputy mayors and Azaria is outspokenly against it, her appointment as the third woman in the high position might succeed in doing what the Silwan plan, the open parking lot on Shabbat and the recent nonkosher food festival failed to achieve – the dismantling of Barkat’s coalition. Because the haredi representatives get infuriated at what they consider her provocative declarations against haredim, against gender separation at the Western Wall, against gender separation on buses, etc. “I have never heard of a religious woman who so aggressively attacks religious people and issues,” says Simhayoff.
Even smiling Pindrus sounds tense when asked about Azaria’s candidacy and concludes that “besides the fact that the haredim won’t accept it, Mayor Barkat would be wise not to appoint anyone for the moment.”
And Azaria? Well, she is cautious not to say too much. “I really don’t know what to say. I believe I can be an important asset to the city, but I really don’t know where things stand at the moment.”
D-day is set for the next city council meeting, by the end of the month. Who knows? Perhaps Barkat will decide to preserve our health and refrain from giving out more candies.