Moshe Lion: The new boss at Safra Square

Lion spends all his days listening to people and working to establish the new lines and character of his tenure.

MOSHE LION: The 2019 budget is the highest ever for Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MOSHE LION: The 2019 budget is the highest ever for Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Six weeks after being officially enthroned as mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion has still not filled all the positions in his office to replace those who left with former mayor Nir Barkat. But the atmosphere is calm and things look much less the hi-tech enterprise it was.
Lion spends all his days at Safra Square, listening to people and working to establish the new lines and character of his tenure. For the moment, he refuses to give interviews, although he is not opposed to sending messages through some of his closest assistants.
The only statement he agreed to release was about the changes his new position have brought to his life and understanding. “I now feel the heavy weight of responsibilities on my shoulders. I realize how serious a mission it is. And I even understand, more than ever, how critical it is to have the experience I have in order to navigate this huge vessel – almost a million residents, about a 10-billion shekel budget and a city that the whole world’s eyes are turned to.”
So what has Lion done during these six weeks? First, the 2019 budget, which is now ready and will be submitted to the next City Council for approval. It is the highest budget ever for Jerusalem – NIS 6.5 billion, plus NIS 3b. for large infrastructure projects (including special projects in the Arab sector of the city).
“Time was of the essence here,” explained one of Lion’s closest assistants. “Moshe Lion realized that general elections were in the air, and he knew from his personal experience as former CEO of government ministries that we had a very short time to obtain anything from the Treasury. Once elections are scheduled and publicly announced, we wouldn’t have been able to obtain what we did.”
The fact is, within less than 10 days, a few personal encounters with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon resulted in a quite spectacular grant from the government – NIS 950 million – the highest ever granted to the city.
“With these sums in hands,” a high-ranking employee of the mayor’s office added, “we can budget the plans Lion had in mind during all the months he prepared himself for that day. That includes a significant raise in the culture and entertainment budgets – some of it we shall see pretty soon, with unprecedented large events for Purim and later on for Independence Day – after two years of almost zero events for these occasions.”
THE MAJOR reason for canceling many outdoor cultural events in the past two years was less a budget issue than it was due to the muddy relations between Barkat and Jerusalem’s chief of police, who refused to authorize police protection for events.
But the general direction is clear: Lion is first changing the atmosphere, and police protection and permits are already a fact. As for the relations between Lion and Kahlon, there is no need this year to spread garbage at the entrance to the Treasury Ministry in order to obtain a budget.
Asked what will work to improve some urgent matters in the city, Lion’s closest partners are eager to give a list of high-priority issues. “The budget holds it all,” said one close assistant.
Asked to elaborate, the assistant enumerated a few items, beginning with cleaning the city. “As of now, things will change. Residents who throw garbage outside of bins will be immediately fined. Those who do not clean up after their dogs will also be severely fined. Additional employees will be added to the current 280 cleaners and sweepers, and we pledge that a significant change will be noticeable by Passover.”
Regarding cats on the streets, now that the municipality is implementing concealed bins that don’t give them access to food, the assistant said, “We are planning feeding corners for the cats, besides the concealed bins, in partnership with associations and residents, so garbage won’t be spread on the streets and cats won’t be hungry.”
Asked what else will change significantly, another close assistant said cultural institutions will get larger budgets, and short-term parking (up to one hour) will be free of charge.
But the major change, he said, will be in massive construction. This follows Lion’s major promise during the campaign that only massive housing solutions will keep the young generation here and eventually bring back some of those who left.
What about new and better-paying jobs? Lion repeated during the campaign that these will follow the first aim of affordable housing. Is Jerusalem going to change its face completely and have towers everywhere? According to the assistant, Lion’s plan is to allow high buildings and towers only in the neighborhoods outside of the historic city’s center.
As for the political issues – coalition-building, tensions between haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and secular, and whether Ofer Berkovitch will be in the coalition or not – the assistant said Lion will stick to his campaign promises. The present coalition is strong, he said.
And while the presence of Yossi Havilio, Laura Wharton (Meretz) and Arieh King (United Jerusalem) slightly reduces the image of an all-haredi coalition, Lion has repeatedly said his door is still open for Berkovitch to change his mind and step in.
Last but not least, activists say that Lion’s position regarding the Emek Refaim segment of the Light Rail Blue Line has become somewhat blurred. For the moment, Lion is being cautious not to publish his personal position regarding the alternatives to the segment.
He says his mind is not yet settled on the issue, and he is still considering all of the possibilities.