Jerusalem run-off race to go down to wire

Gerrer Rebbe expected to decide capital’s mayor.

Central bus station Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Central bus station Jerusalem
Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the grand rabbi of the Gerrer Hassidim, is expected to crown the next mayor of Jerusalem just ahead of the November 13 runoff race between city councilmen Moshe Lion and Ofer Berkovitch, sources close to both candidates said Wednesday.
In Tuesday’s first round of voting, Lion won 33% of the vote and Berkovitch 29%, earning their places in the runoff. Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin finished a disappointing third with 20%, and Deputy Mayor Yossi Daitch won 17% of the vote.
Berkovitch’s Hitorerut Party won six seats in the city council, giving him an advantage over Lion, whose Jerusalem Sheli Party did not win a single seat. But Lion can use the six seats of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Degel Hatorah Party, which backed him, as a base.
The haredim won a majority of the 31 seats on the city council, including Degel’s six, Shas’s five, Agudat Yisrael’s three, Bnei Torah’s one, and the seat of Yonatan Yosef of the Meuhadim Party, who is a grandson of the late Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Lion and Berkovitch already on Wednesday began wooing Agudat Yisrael, which backed Daitch in the first round of voting. They both spoke to Daitch, who congratulated them on advancing.
An aide to Lion’s political patron, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, met Wednesday with United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler, who is a Belz Hassid. Agudat Yisrael city councilman Yohanan Weizman, a Gerrer Hassid who is close to Berkovitch, is expected to ask Alter not to back any candidate and let his followers vote for Berkovitch or not vote at all.
Ger is the largest and most influential hassidic sect. Alter is not expected to issue a ruling until just ahead of the runoff race. The religious Zionist Bayit Yehudi Party and Meuhadim leader Aryeh King are expected to endorse Lion, but many of their supporters will back Berkovitch.
Berkovitch came to the Kedma Restaurant that overlooks the Old City walls from the Mamilla Shopping Center to thank his supporters, while Lion’s party was held at the Pavilion Hall in the capital’s Talpiot neighborhood.
“Yossi Daitch and I are colleagues and have a lot in common, and we proved that we can run positive and optimistic campaigns,” Berkovitch told Army Radio Wednesday. “We showed that people of different positions and religious views can work together.”
When asked if he represents a secular party, Berkovitch replied that “you can’t define me as the secular candidate. I represent a wide movement that includes secular people, conservatives, religious people and even haredim.”
He said that he plans to give each resident what he deserves to receive from the city council, “regardless of the size of his kippa.”
Lion told his followers that they would celebrate their victory in two weeks. But he said he would start building a coalition immediately.
“I promise that in five years, Jerusalem will be in a different place,” Lion said.
Cassandra Gomes-Hochberg and Josh Axelrod contributed to this report.