Though he won less than 3% of the vote, the Russian candidate was greeted by supporters everywhere he visited.
By DAVID STROMBERGPublished: NOVEMBER 13, 2008 10:56Advertisement
In Gilo, as Arkadi Gaydamak entered the black van in which he and his entourage toured Jerusalem's polling stations on the afternoon of municipal election day, a passerby called out, "Is that the real Gaydamak?"
Though the tour was marred by some organizational mishaps, one thing was clear: Jerusalemites knew who Gaydamak was. Even if it didn't sway their vote, most greeted him with great enthusiasm and took the opportunity to shake his hand or take a photo.
But Gaydamak did have his supporters. As his convoy arrived at a Talpiot polling station in the morning, people in black-and-yellow Gaydamak T-shirts stood waving posters and chanting his name. Some sang "He is great! He is great!"
Rina, a Russian-speaking voter who met him on the exterior steps of the polling station, used the chance meeting to ask him about his platform. "We need a music school," she told In Jerusalem. "I asked him whether he was going to do anything about culture." She says he answered her, "Of course."
But the vociferous supporters were one of the few things on the trail that went smoothly. At the polling station, an apparent misunderstanding about his permit to inspect a ballot-casting room ended in the on-duty policewoman's refusing him permission to enter. A woman shouted that Gaydamak was a great man for helping the poor and struggling. But Gaydamak, with Deputy Mayor Yigal Amedi at his side, had to leave without doing an inspection.
"There's no democracy in this country," Gaydamak said as they walked out. "We just saw that."
In the parking lot below, a tent from the mayoral campaign of Nir Barkat was set up. Walking up to it, Gaydamak gestured for the Barkat volunteer to switch sides and join the Gaydamak tent. The volunteer didn't betray his loyalty but smiled as he stood next to the Russian candidate for a photo.
The entourage then prepared to move to Har Homa to inspect another polling station. None of the journalists who had been in touch with Gaydamak's spokesperson had been given a copy of that day's schedule, and some confusion followed as the convoy drove off.
Eventually arriving at Har Homa, it became clear that a fine Jerusalem day had passed, with clear blue skies, a smattering of thin white clouds, and the moon already in view. The sun was setting over the Judean Hills, and Gaydamak and his entourage were bathed in golden light.
But the picturesque scene ended when, again, a policewoman prevented Gaydamak and the entourage from entering the polling station. Everyone stood outside while she apparently called a superior, and this time someone seemed to have confirmed Gaydamak's permission to enter. He did so, as did the 20 or so staff, journalists and supporters following him. This seemed to be a problem, as the policewoman could be heard saying on the phone, "They've all entered. I can't stop them. Everyone went in."
At none of the schools that held the polling stations nor at any other stops along the way did Gaydamak speak publicly. At each polling station, Amedi spoke to those in attendance and asked how many eligible voters had come to cast their ballot. Most people who had a kind word to say to Gaydamak were met with a single phrase: "Thank you."
He made no comments about his political platform or proposed policies, no public speech about what he planned to do as mayor or how he planned to improve the city. He seemed to take his campaign slogan - "Gaydamak doesn't talk, he acts" - all too literally.
Following behind him as he walked through the various neighborhoods were his wife, who rarely makes public appearances, and his two daughters (his son reportedly was unable to make it). The presence of his immediate family suggested that, despite the cynical perception of his mayoral bid, there was something important in this day for Gaydamak. Even if it was all a game, it was a game he cared about deeply.
From Har Homa the convoy moved to a polling station in Gilo. In front and behind his black van were small hatchbacks with bullhorns playing a recording that called Gaydamak "The pillar of hessed [lovingkindness] in our generation." In Gilo, another passerby shouted that she had voted for Gaydamak because he had picked the best deputy - Yigal Amedi. "We need people like you [Gaydamak]," bellowed a man next to her her. "People with feelings, who don't work too much with their head but with their heart. He shouldn't become mayor of Jerusalem, he needs to be prime minister!"
In the end, Gaydamak received about 3.6 percent of the Jerusalem vote. Did he really believe he was going to become mayor of Jerusalem? One possibility is that he wanted to project a confident attitude regardless of his chances. Another is that he was playing at political theater, saying he was going to win while knowing he probably wouldn't. And a third is that he actually believed he was going to win. Or perhaps there's a little of all three in him. Which is what makes Arkadi Gaydamak so interesting.
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