Gaydamak affirms Jerusalem mayoral run

Billionaire tycoon tells 'Post' he only wishes to serve as cabinet minister until Jerusalem election.

Gaydamak GIL 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Gaydamak GIL 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The Russian-Israeli billionaire tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak said Monday that he is "absolutely" running in this year's Jerusalem mayoral race, despite a recent foray into national politics. "Unlike politicians, I have never changed my opinion," Gaydamak told The Jerusalem Post. "I said I will be mayor of Jerusalem and I will be mayor of Jerusalem." His comments come just days after three former parliamentarians from the Pensioners Party broke away from their party to join a new party in the Knesset, Social Justice, which is chaired by Gaydamak. Following his political coup in luring away the three lawmakers, Gaydamak said that he would be willing to serve as Minister for Diaspora Affairs in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government. The law prohibits politicians from serving concurrently as a cabinet minister and a mayor. In the interview, Gaydamak clarified that his sole intention was to serve as a minister for the next six months until the mayoral elections, stressing that his foremost goal was to be elected mayor of Jerusalem. Public opinion polls indicate that the Russian-Israeli tycoon lags a distant third in a race against Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, and Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat. Lupolianski is expected to announce his decision to run for a second term in the coming month, pending the approval of his rabbis, while Barkat has already declared that he is running in the race. A three-way race between Lupolianski, Barkat, and Gaydamak is likely to boost Lupolianski's chances of winning reelection since the non-haredi vote would be split between two secular candidates. Approximately one-third of Jerusalem's Jewish residents are haredi. But Gaydamak has repeatedly brushed off newspaper polling showing he is at the bottom barrel in the race, and has refused to join forces with Barkat in the election. He said Sunday that he would only begin campaigning in the very "few weeks" before the November election. "The dynamics of [my] progress in national opinion are very strong so I don't need to do it now," he said. Gaydamak, who has been facing suspicions of money-laundering, has been under police investigation for years. He faces an international arrest warrant because of a French investigation into alleged arms trafficking to Angola in the early 1990s, but has never been convicted of any crime. As a philanthropist, he has stepped in to help the hard-hit residents of the southern border town of Sderot, who have been the target of seven years of ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. Likewise, during the 2006 Lebanon War, he funded the evacuation of thousands of northerners for an all-expenses-paid beach vacation until the fighting ended.