Ready, set, go!

The next 20 months promise to be interesting...

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A confidential lunch held two weeks ago at the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria was apparently the turning point in determining Mayor Nir Barkat’s next public step. What he heard from his two dining partners – two of his list members at city council – helped him to make a decision.
A third term at the head of the city, or move on to national politics? Barkat understood that he had to cross the Rubicon and make up his mind.
The fact that his two table partners were in accord with the voices he hears at home added to their weight. While an official declaration has yet to be announced, the municipality spokesman’s answer to the key question this time was close to an unequivocal affirmative: “Nir Barkat has said right from the beginning that he would serve two or three terms.”
Less than 20 months remain before the 2018 elections – almost tomorrow morning in terms of election campaigns.
It is no secret that Barkat wanted to move on. He officially joined the Likud Party (after having been member of the late Kadima), and he worked hard to bring new members into the Likud as a reservoir to bolster his position inside it.
Realizing that he was not considered a “member of the family” in the Likud, he hired a well-connected person inside the party to help him become more accepted and welcomed, but those efforts achieved only limited success. He made declarations and resolutions to elevate his profile to a more national level. Some observers regard his public clashes with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) as part of a scheme to put him on the front pages – to create a “buzz” around him that would place him beyond local city politics, even if that city is Jerusalem, the capital.
The results were underwhelming.
“In the eyes of most of the most influential figures in the Likud, Barkat has remained an outsider,” says a leading member of that party who closely followed the efforts of the mayor to carve a place for himself.
“The Likud is like a big family, you have to grow with them, to be part of them, their culture, their manners, their language,” explains the Likudnik.
“Barkat worked hard, but he remained an outsider. The fact that he is educated, a sort of golden boy and rich didn’t work in his favor – to the contrary.”
During the past few months, potential candidates to replace Barkat at the helm of the city were cautious. Knowing that nothing was final, they all – except for one – declared that they would not oppose Barkat if he chose to run again. Still, behind closed doors, new and ancient alliances were forged and dissolved. Clarifications were discreetly sought and given as all waited breathlessly for an official sign that didn’t come until last week, when the local press leaked the unofficial word that Barkat would remain in the city and run for a third term.
News of the mayor’s apparently final decision to run here again has ignited activity the local arena. At least two candidates – Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (Hitorerut) and Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman (Jerusalem will Succeed) have made it clear that they are dropping out of the race before it even kicks off. The “outside” candidate – attorney Yossi Havilio, former city legal adviser and once a close supporter of Barkat, hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, but off the record, the word is that he will run.
Moshe Lion, Barkat’s unsuccessful rival in the 2013 elections and today a member of the mayor’s list, is still the candidate of the haredi sector. Officially, not one of the factions of the haredi list (United Torah Judaism) has dissolved this engagement.
Off the record, it seems that the haredi sector is the one most affected by Barkat’s third candidacy, for two reasons. The haredi representatives understand well that another Lion failure against Barkat would mean that Barkat wouldn’t owe them anything anymore, while Lion is already totally obliged to them.
And on the margin is an old-new player in this game – Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas), who seeks to enhance his party’s interests in the game. The word at city council, however, is that Deri no longer controls his troops as he did in the past. Hence a discreet message forwarded to one of the deputy mayors clarified that city residents – including some of the rabbis – who identify with Shas in the city will decide for themselves for who to vote for.
The next 20 months promise to be interesting...