A pastrami sandwich, public money and a mayor

Jerusalemites hoped that Mayor Uri Lupolianski would keep his promises.

lupolianski 224.88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
lupolianski 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
June 2003 marked the beginning of a new era at Kikar Safra. For the first time, Jerusalem had a haredi mayor. The public wasn't distressed in the least and there was no anti-religious hysteria. After all, many voters thought of Uri Lupolianski as the perfect candidate: a man with a proven track record who had been awarded the Israel Prize for his deeds of charity and kindness, a man with an eternal smile and a kindly manner. Lupolianski really could be, voters believed, a mayor for all of Jerusalem's citizens - secular and religious, men and women, Jewish and Arab. And Jerusalemites hoped that this mayor would keep his promises. But three years later, this column has come to the conclusion that he hasn't. The city is as dirty as ever. In some neighborhoods, the situation is getting worse. Last month, the Tourism Ministry froze its allocations to the city until the city cleans up the tourist sites. Poverty is as deep as ever. True, the municipal welfare department has undergone cosmetic changes and is now known as the "Department for Community and Family." But department employees spend most of their time coordinating between poor citizens and charity funds. They have little time or energy left to initiate or promote innovative social welfare plans or to strategically plan how to deal with the entrenched poverty that this city faces. Jerusalemites are certainly enjoying a boom in culture, but most of these events are neither sponsored nor produced by the municipality. Furthermore, the mayor has been careful not to attend these events - because, say his detractors, our mayor does not want to be associated with immodest events. And what about Jerusalem's international status? Well, forget the days of Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert. Lupolianski doesn't seem interested. Last month, the French minister of foreign affairs opened an exhibition in a part of the city that France officially considers "conquered territory" - thus providing a tacit, de-facto recognition of Israel's position on Jerusalem as a united city. Lupolianski didn't even show up at the opening. During these three years, nearly a dozen of the municipality's highest-ranking employees have quit; at least two of them have made it clear that they left because the mayor has not supported their fight against building violations in all sectors of the city. And when the city received a prestigious prize, recognizing Jerusalem as the most important city of monotheism, Lupolianski allocated the almost $1 million in prize money to synthetic grass and a Shabbat clock at the entrance to the city. Jerusalem may be the cradle of monotheism, but our mayor did not see fit to recognize that there are two other monotheistic religions in this city. (And never mind how ugly the project is - we've already talked about that!) Lupolianski, a political novice, seems to have complete and utter confidence in his advisers. That is certainly his right. But most of his advisers came on board with little or no experience. And so, far from the public eye but definitely at public expense, many of them have attended training sessions to teach them, among other things, how to write meetings in the mayor's agenda, how to organize meetings between the mayor's assistants and municipal department heads, and so forth. Most interestingly, the job of training Lupolianski's secretaries was handed over to a company that specializes in this type of training. Professionalization? Perhaps - except that the owner of this company is a major, long-time supporter of Yad Sarah. Lupolianski's advisers churn out a seemingly never-ending series of PR campaigns and gimmicks: the largest-ever hanukkia, followed by the largest-ever succa, followed by the largest-ever halla. We have endless photo-ops: the mayor builds a snowman; the mayor pets a dog; the mayor rides a horse-drawn carriage. Here the mayor paints a wall around a slum; there he holds a broom; here he cleans up after a dog. Here he greets a visitor and there he hugs a resident (men only, of course.) We have slogans and spins galore, but, at the end of the day, we are left with the dirt, the poverty, the inadequate budgets, the problematic school system, the negative migration. But it is Lupolianski's attitude to the rule of law and the representatives of the law that is most worrisome. Lupolianski has turned the municipal comptroller into a "persona non grata." He doesn't bother to pay attention to her criticisms or to follow her recommendations. For example, he refused even to refer the head of the haredi education department for disciplinary action, even after the comptroller found him responsible for spending nearly NIS 7 million of public money without any official authorization. Lupolianski has focused much of his own energies against his legal adviser, attorney Yossi Havilio. Time and time again, Lupolianski ignored the professional advice, was taken to court, lost and paid a fine (sometimes from his own pocket and too-often from the public coffer). Lupolianski seems not to have accepted the fact that the municipal legal adviser is not his own private solicitor but, rather, the man responsible for maintaining legal standards at the municipality. Finally, last week, Lupolianski decided to put an end to Havilio's service at the municipality. This is a first - no mayor has ever dared to do so. And despite all the warnings, he won, although some citizens may see this as a very hollow victory. Twenty-three city council members, including three from the crumbling opposition, voted to oust Havilio. To secular Jerusalemites, Mayor Lupolianski is a bona fide haredi. But he is is still not considered "one of us" by the haredi community and is still trying to prove himself. One way to prove himself is to take a stand against the gay pride parade. Three times, without success, Lupolianski has tried to stop the parade. Repeatedly, he has refused to hand over budgets to the Open House. Judges have ruled against him and in at least one instance, forced him to pay fines out of his own pocket. Two weeks ago, Judge Yehudit Tzur ruled that the municipality had to pay the Open House the NIS 350,000 from the municipal culture budget to which it is legally entitled, in addition to NIS 30,000 for court costs. Lupolianski is refusing to surrender. He has announced that he will appeal to a higher court. And since Tzur's ruling was in accordance with Havilio's position that Lupolianski cannot refuse to hand over the monies to the Open House, Lupolianski has asked the municipal Finance Committee to approve payment for a private attorney to represent him. Apparently, Lupolianski's hands didn't shake when he signed this request, which will cost a minimum of $10,000, plus VAT. Little does it seem to matter to him that most legal experts have already said that his appeal has little chance of success. Last week, a prominent haredi leader explained Lupolianski's position to this column. "You have to understand," he said patiently. "Lupolianski is like the pastrami in a sandwich. He is pushed and pulled by both the haredi and the secular citizens. When the secular citizens don't like what he does, they complain and move to Tel Aviv. But when we, the haredim, don't like what he does, we don't talk - we act. His children might lose a good shidduch (marriage match). He won't be called up to the Torah on Shabbat. His sons might be expelled from a good school. "So even if he understands that he has no chance to change the court's ruling, even if he has to pay out of his own pocket, even if he is attacked in the secular press - this is still the very best option for him. He will prove that he is a martyr for haredi values." Mayor or martyr, it's been three years.