Ayalon hopes 'Mr. Clean' campaign will propel him to Labor victory

Asked if he was readying the champagne bottles, Ayalon replied, "Even when we win, we don't drink champagne, we drink herbal tea."

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Mirroring most of his campaign, MK Ami Ayalon's headquarters in north Tel Aviv's Ramat Hahayal neighborhood was serious and reserved on the eve of his projected victory in the Labor Party primary. As the polls came in, some placing Ayalon less than 1 percentage point away from the 40% needed to be elected Labor Party chairman in the first round, Ayalon stayed in a nearby apartment, determined to await for "conclusive results" before releasing any statement. Asked if he was readying the champagne bottles, Ayalon replied, "Even when we win, we don't drink champagne, we drink herbal tea." The comment was typical of Ayalon, who has run most of his campaign out of the media spotlight, and only made headlines recently when he reported that a number of local Arab leaders had tried to offer votes in exchange for favors or cash. The man who many voters have taken to calling "Mr. Clean" hoped that his refusal to take part in mud-slinging would win him the race. "I ran this campaign the only way I thought I should - cleanly," Ayalon said Monday night. "It is up to the voters now, I am not worried." But aides close to Ayalon acknowledged that he was indeed worried, at least by the low voter turnout, which hovered around 60% despite earlier predictions of high participation. Among the kibbutzim, Ayalon's key constituency, voter turnout was significantly higher, reflecting the large amount of time that Ayalon and other leading candidate, former prime minister Ehud Barak, put into wooing the sector. Recent polls have shown Barak and Ayalon running neck-and-neck, with both hovering around the 35% mark. When the time came to vote, however, a number of Labor members switched their votes away from dark horse candidates Defense Minister Amir Peretz, MK Ophir Paz-Pines and MK Danny Yatom. "I became convinced to vote for Ayalon only after I started thinking about it as a race for prime minister, not just Labor chairman," said Orit Kahn, a Jerusalem native. Whoever wins the Labor primary will likely go against Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and a Kadima candidate in the next national election. Exactly when that election is held might also depend on the Labor primary. While Barak has said that he would keep Labor in the government in the short-term, Ayalon has remained vague about his plans. When the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War released its initial findings on April 30, Ayalon was one of the first Labor MKs to slam the Olmert-led government and to demand that the prime minister resign from his post. Since then, however, he has softened his tone, and on Monday he said that he would have to "wait and see" for an appropriate time to take Labor out of the government. Earlier on Monday, Ayalon voted at Kibbutz Ma'agan on Lake Kinneret, along with his father. Flashing an photograph from his youth there, Ayalon said that he was proud of where he came from and for staying true to his kibbutz roots. "In a Labor Party under my leadership, there will be no camps," he said. Ayalon's wife, Bilha, said she was a long-time Labor member and that she believed Ayalon could bring positive change to the party. Ayalon was born at Ma'agan 61 years ago and still lives in the nearby village of Kerem Maharal village. A former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head and OC Navy, Ayalon still swims two kilometers each day in a one-meter wide pool that he built in his backyard.