Analysis: What the local vote doesn't say about nat'l elections

Despite seven years of Kassams, Sderot votes in Kadima mayor.

bibi barak livni trio 224  (photo credit: AP)
bibi barak livni trio 224
(photo credit: AP)
If any proof is needed that there is little to learn about national political trends from the outcome of the local elections, the results of Tuesday's vote in Sderot persuasively provide it. David Buskila, who was handily elected mayor of the beleaguered town with more than 45 percent of the vote, represented Kadima in the election. If anyone should not have won a popularity contest in Sderot, it was Kadima, which has been in power during the worst years of Palestinian terrorist rocket attacks against the city and its environs. The residents of Sderot are furious with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government for not reinforcing schools and kindergartens quickly enough, for balking at building reinforced security rooms for thousands of unprotected homes and for refusing to adequately compensate merchants and others for damages they have suffered as a result of the Kassam and mortar attacks. Most also believe the government should have used unrestrained force against the terrorists. But Sderot residents did not vote for Buskila the representative of Kadima. They voted for him because as a town of 16,000, they chose the individual they thought best suited to run the city. This was particularly evident in Buskila's case, because he had already served as Sderot mayor in the past. This does not mean that party affiliation has no effect on local elections. In a city as right-wing as Jerusalem, even Teddy Kollek, a long-time senior official in Mapai and the Labor Party, decided to establish an allegedly independent and local list called One Jerusalem after the Likud came to power in 1977. But Kollek wasn't fooling anyone. Everyone knew what ideological camp he belonged to, and the city kept voting for him (until, as an octogenarian, he lost to Olmert) while overwhelmingly voting Likud in the national elections. The party system in local affairs was severely weakened after the introduction of the double ballot system, whereby voters cast separate ballots for the head of the local authority and the local council. Since the local authority is the governmental institution closest to the individual, the element of personality began to take on greater importance. And as the political parties became increasingly discredited in the eyes of the public over the years, it was the personal rather than the political that gained emphasis. Of course, ideological identification can occasionally affect election results. It is not surprising that Dov Henin, a member of the Communist Party, lost the election in Tel Aviv, or that there has never been a Likud mayor in Haifa. For the most part, however, voters seem much more willing to forgo ideological considerations on the local level. They also realize that the candidates' views on war and peace, foreign affairs and religious legislation will have little to do with their skills in administering local affairs. Instead, they largely rely on their more intimate familiarity with the personalities of the local candidates in making their choices.