Will Jerusalem elect a second haredi mayor?

UTJ sure of Porush win due to capital's demographics, split secular vote.

MK Meir Porush 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
MK Meir Porush 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
After months of political stagnation and inactivity, the Jerusalem mayoral race is likely to undergo a major shake-up next week, with MK Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism Party expected to be selected to replace Mayor Uri Lupolianski as the haredi party's candidate in the upcoming elections. The party's decision to replace Lupolianski with Porush, which is slated to be approved by party elders on Monday night, injects an element of uncertainty into the race as to how Porush will fare among non-haredi voters, coupled with the still-open yet critical question of how many non-haredi candidates will face off against him, or whether the non-haredi camp can ultimately unite under one candidate as the haredim are expected to. Lupolianski's supporters have repeatedly argued that he was the only haredi candidate who would be able to garner the votes of some traditional and secular residents - as he did in the last elections - as part of an effort to cause party rabbis to overlook a rotation agreement signed before the last elections whereby Lupolianski was to serve one term, and then a candidate from the party's Agudat Yisrael faction would replace him. To this end, an internal party poll reportedly commissioned by Lupolianski supporters which was released this week showed Porush being trounced by Nir Barkat in a possible match-up. But the poll was rejected by a party official close to Porush as an attempt by Lupolianski supporters to "intimidate the haredi public" in an eleventh-hour effort to get party rabbis to back him on Monday. The official said their own polls show Porush handily winning the race. Porush's determination to run and the black-on-white pre-election party agreement could leave Lupolianski with no choice but to accept any decision of his party, his unstated desire to stand for reelection notwithstanding. At the same time, United Torah Judaism is expected to negotiate an agreement with the other main haredi party, Shas, whereby Shas will back the UTJ's candidate for the Jerusalem mayoral race, officials said. In exchange, the UTJ will reportedly support the Shas mayoral candidate in neighboring Beit Shemesh. "There will only be one haredi candidate for mayor of Jerusalem," a UTJ official said categorically Wednesday. In contrast, the non-haredi camp in Jerusalem is already splintered with at least two declared candidates, Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat and the Israeli-Russian billionaire tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak, and a third, Hadassah-University Hospital Director-General Shlomo Mor-Yosef, mulling a run. With haredim comprising one-third of Jewish voters in Jerusalem, the haredi candidate is seen as being an automatic front-runner in the election. Barkat's chances of winning would be diminished further if Gaydamak also runs, as he has repeatedly said he would, since the non-haredi vote would then be divided. In the past, public opinion polls indicated that Gaydamak lags a distant third in a potential three-way race against Lupolianski and Barkat. The poll results unequivocally indicate that multiple secular candidates will again work in favor of a haredi candidate, while more than one haredi candidate would help Barkat. Gaydamak has repeatedly brushed off polls showing he is at the bottom position in the race, and has refused to join forces with Barkat in the fall election, despite the city opposition leader's status as the leading non-haredi candidate. No major polling has been done yet with Porush replacing Lupolianski as the haredi candidate, although UTJ officials are confidently predicting he will be the next mayor due to Jerusalem's demographics.