After 20 years, Huldai faces challenges to mayorship

Tel Aviv mayoral race came down to the wire.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has had a good run – 20 years to be precise – and while he’s not yet ready to call it quits, his victory is not as certain as it at appeared at first. When Tel Avivians head to the polls on Tuesday, a close race is expected between him and deputy mayor Asaf Zamir.
While Huldai has maintained an edge over Zamir in the polls, it has steadily lessened over the past few months as the latter’s “it’s time for change” campaign slogan has seemingly resonated with many Tel Avivians.
The last poll conducted by Maariv’s local magazine Hamekomon found a mere 3.5% gap between the two candidates, only a few months after an initial Channel 2 poll revealed a 35% gap between the pair.
The recent poll, conducted by Panels Politics, found that a Zamir victory is dependent on residents who have not yet decided whether or not to vote. He needs to get as many voters out of the house as possible, while for Huldai it’s preferable that as few as possible vote.
The third most popular candidate – according to the polls – Anachnu Ha’ir leader Assaf Harel – has drawn ire from Zamir’s camp for not pulling out of the race and potentially harming Zamir’s chance at victory by stealing voters. This could only happen if Huldai gets more than 40% of the vote, which he has not done in recent polls; otherwise, the election will move to a second round between the two candidates who get the most votes.
Both Huldai and Harel have cast doubt on the reliability of the polls, each suggesting that they may have been sponsored by interested parties.
In any case, Harel has responded to the charges against him by describing Zamir as “young Huldai” – in his eyes there is little difference between the two candidates and only he can offer a real alternative.
Of course the fourth mayoral candidate, deputy mayor Natan Elnatan of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, also offers a very different alternative, but in liberal Tel Aviv his chances are so slim that he has largely been left out of the mainstream pre-election discourse.
“I believe that in the moment of truth, every person whose tradition is important to them will vote for the Shas party and for the mayor of the city, Natan Elnatan. We are the only ones who are working to stop the lawlessness and to restore sanity to the city,” Elnatan’s spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
He added that he believes right-wing, traditional, religious and Haredi residents of Tel Aviv-Jaffa will vote for him and not any of the other three candidates, who he said “are competing over who is more left-wing.”
Harel on Monday, reiterated his mantra that his Anachnu Ha’ir list presents the “only real and principled alternative” for Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
“In these elections we do not just want to replace Huldai, we want to change the system – and to propose a new agenda for the city. Huldai is an effective mayor, but effective in the wrong direction,” he continued, asserting that Tel Aviv’s current focus is on tourism, business and the rich rather than on the common good of the residents.
“Zamir has been sitting for a decade with Huldai in the coalition, as his right hand,” he continued. “They are duplicates of the same thing. Anachnu Ha’ir offers a city that puts residents in the center, which works to reduce the gaps and does not leave the south of the city and Jaffa at the bottom of the list of priorities. A city that prioritizes public transport and pedestrians to private cars. The mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa could have led the liberal democratic camp in Israel, instead of shutting himself in a bubble and cutting himself off from the rest of the country.”
“I am running for mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa with a vision of narrowing gaps and taking municipal and national responsibility,” he stated.
A press release sent out Monday by Zamir’s spokeswoman read: “After 20 years with the same mayor, Zamir calls on residents to vote and bring new leadership to the city.” Pointing to the latest poll, she said: “This means that a few thousand more votes for Zamir will mark a historic revolution in the city.”
Writing on Facebook, Zamir said: “We’re going to win, because we’re the camp that needs to win. And the day after the elections, we will begin with hard work to improve transportation, infrastructure, education and social services here. In order to make the municipality more transparent, more participatory, more social and more advanced. One that I promise will make you proud. I love Tel Aviv-Jaffa with all my heart. It is important to me and it is important for me to keep it groundbreaking, liberal, enlightened and free. To celebrate its history and allow it to grow in its own way and at its own pace.”
Meanwhile Huldai put out a message on his Facebook page that reads: “Dear residents, tomorrow you will decide what Tel Aviv-Jaffa will be seen here in the coming years. You have two options: The first is to entrust the most important city in Israel [to] the hands of candidates who, even if their intentions are good, have no managerial experience, and never stood up to the government or knocked on the table for your interests or presented orderly work plans or a clear vision for our city.”
The second option, Huldai continued, “is to continue the tremendous momentum of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which in 20 years transformed from a bankrupt city to one of the most attractive cities in the world. To choose Tel Aviv-Jaffa as a center for entrepreneurship and innovation, for free and vibrant culture and art, a city which provides quality education to all its young residents, the city which provides a variety of activities initiated by the municipality, which develops community life, which connects with residents in many ways and conducts with them a continuous dialogue, a city which is a lighthouse of values of pluralism and freedom of expression in the face of the dangerous processes that the State of Israel is undergoing, a city that is simply fun to live in.”
Huldai warned residents that choosing the first option was to “gamble on the future of Tel Aviv-Jaffa,” while calling on those “who love the city and what it offers” to vote for him.
In the coming hours it will be revealed whether Tel Aviv-Jaffa chose to take a chance for change, or preferred to stick with what they know for another five years.