Barkat takes over as capital's mayor

Vows to work tirelessly to bring 'back hope' to Jerusalem; calls city's youth "oxygen for success."

barkat kotel check caption 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barkat kotel check caption 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Nir Barkat took office as Jerusalem mayor on Wednesday, pledging to improve the capital's economy and to make it attractive once again to Israel's youth. The 49-year-old self-made hi-tech millionaire, who won the mayoral election three weeks ago after serving five and half years as the city's opposition leader, called his inauguration "without a doubt one of the most moving days of my life" and vowed to work tirelessly to bring "back hope" to a city which tens of thousands of young Israelis left over the last decade in search of better jobs and cheaper housing. "Our children and our friends, we all know this, are leaving the city in not insignificant numbers every year and are building their future elsewhere," Barkat said in his address at the official changeover ceremony held in the overflowing, vast, municipal council chambers at city hall. "In the last election, we fought for our home, those of us who stayed, those of us who did not despair, those of us who wanted to restore hope and to take responsibility," he said. "Those for whom Jerusalem is not just another city but home, all those who went out to vote decided not to give up and to fight for a better future for Jerusalem." Barkat said his parents came to Jerusalem from the central region when he was an infant because they saw it as a successful city and a good place for young people to raise a family. "I plan to close the circle and bring back this city's attractiveness," the father of three said, "in order that my daughters will chose to remain in Jerusalem after their military service and so that young people will want to build their home and their future here." Barkat, who has formed a secular-modern Orthodox coalition with 18 out of the 31 city councilors, reiterated his desire to include the haredi parties in a wall-to-wall coalition that would work to better the economic status of all the city's residents. The public's expectations of him were both "high and real," but by working together the "difficult challenges" could be overcome, he said. "It is my hope that we will always think about the other, and not only about the sector that sent each one of us here," he said, pledging to maintain the delicate religious status quo in Jerusalem and the respect for all residents. In an earlier address at the changeover ceremony, Barkat's predecessor, Uri Lupolianski, said the city was in "fine shape," with a "flourishing economy," eliciting bitter chuckles of bewilderment from the jam-packed audience, some of whom were standing for the half-hour event in the city council chambers. "Don't forget to invite me for the first ride on the light-rail," Lupolianski said, referring to a project that is running years behind schedule, and whose snails-paced and error-ridden construction has turned parts of the city into a traffic-clogged obstacle course. The back-to-back speeches of the outgoing and incoming mayors - former political rivals who had traded gracious compliments and polite handshakes before the public and media ahead of the addresses - offered almost antithetical realities of life in Jerusalem. Both men received standing ovations, with the loudest applause reserved for Barkat. After the event, Lupolianski was due to return to Yad Sarah, the medical charitable organization he established over a quarter century ago. The ceremony ended with the singing of the national anthem; the haredim in the chamber did not join in.