So long, city hall

For residents, Ya’acov (Kobi) Kahlon’s resignation from the city council might be a sad loss; but for the longtime property contractor and entrepreneur, it will be business as usual.

Kobi Kahlon
For those in the know at Safra Square, it was just a matter of time. They did not expect Deputy Mayor Ya’acov (Kobi) Kahlon to return to his position at the municipality at the end of the leave of absence he took to help his brother Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in his recent campaign.
Kahlon’s official announcement on Sunday that he would end his mission by November 2015 was expected. Some insiders had expected it to come even sooner.
On Sunday evening, local journalists and those covering Jerusalem affairs were informed of Kahlon’s decision and Mayor Nir Barkat’s response: “Many thanks and best wishes for the future of the man who walked as close as possible to the mayor for more than seven years.”
Nothing in the words that Barkat had chosen for his farewell to Kahlon suggest that the good wishes were accompanied by a sigh of relief. But for some highranking officials close to both men, Kahlon’s decision may have come at the best possible moment for Barkat, despite the genuine friendship between the two.
As head of the sensitive Local Planning and Construction Committee, Kahlon made several significant achievements, such as much less bureaucracy; a shorter waiting time for building permits; and more transparency in the committee’s administration.
The committee had been one of the most corrupt, up to the tragic events of the Versailles affair in 2005 that cost the lives of 23 people.
Under Kahlon, it became a beacon of the struggle against corruption, faithful to Barkat’s promises of accountability and transparency to the public. However, behind that façade, albeit well-intentioned, passions work hard and tell a slightly different story.
Over the years, Kahlon’s position at the municipality took a real toll on his life. As deputy mayor he earned a salary, but as a businessman and a developer (which he did before joining Barkat) he made much more money. During his first year at the municipality, Kahlon used to quip that the main purpose of his position was to “lose some money.” And he always said that he was not planning to remain there for too long. He used to add, jokingly, that nobody believed him when he said he didn’t like political life and that he had come only because Barkat insisted.
Today, the committee he presided over works much better than ever before. After managing his brother’s campaign for several months and being away from the city’s issues, Kahlon felt it was time to go.
During the campaign for the general elections of March 17, he paved the way for Rachel Azaria to enter national politics and supported Roy Folkman, until recently head of the strategic administration at city hall, to join his brother’s party, Kulanu. Today, both of them are MKs.
Comments a well-informed insider at Safra Square, “The pressure of his family to leave the position and get back to his neglected business became stronger, and the Planning and Construction Committee is now presided over by another deputy mayor, Meir Turgeman, so it is the perfect time to leave.”
And there are the vague rumors about investigations regarding Kahlon’s affairs over the years and suspicions of his being involved in corruption.
Kahlon has repeatedly responded that these issues are not valid. And thus far, he has not been indicted in any affair of any kind.
“It seems that Kahlon was right all this time,” says an employee who knows him well.
“He always said that he would leave after a few years to get back to his business, but people just didn’t believe him. They didn’t believe that someone could reach such a high position and still want to leave it.”