City Front: Partying hard

With Mina Fenton and Shmuel Shkedi reportedly on their way out, the NRP's list for the next elections is far from final.

A few weeks ago, a large advertisement in praise of Deputy Mayor Shmuel Shkedi appeared in one of the local religious newspapers. The ad mentioned his achievements in improving the status of the religious Zionist education system in the city over the past few years. Shkedi, head of the National Religious Party list in the city council and holder of the education portfolio, says the ad is but one proof that he is the only local politician who is publicly thanked for his work. When asked if the honor doubled as a farewell from his post, as has been reported, Shkedi says: "Who said I'm leaving? I am presenting my protege to succeed me as deputy mayor, but I never said I was leaving the city council." But for more than one NRP member at Kikar Safra, Shkedi's planned successor, David Hadari, is not cause for good news. Particularly for Yair Gabbai, No. 2 in the NRP list and Mina Fenton, No. 4 in the same list and the only member who officially announced her departure as of the next elections. Both Fenton and Gabbai, however, are wary of expressing their frustration at the proposed selection. After all, as some local NRP members said this week, "Nothing is settled, so people are cautious." Last Thursday, at the final city council meeting of 2007, Fenton didn't even show up. And in the hall, during one of the breaks, Gabbai and Hadari were careful not to meet face-to-face,. Shkedi, as usual, had a smile plastered on his face, all the while assuring that "Everything would be only for the best of the residents of Jerusalem." A quick glance at the NRP list tells us the following: Despite the fact that the city's population is traditionally considered right wing and religious, the list most connected ideologically has only four seats, while the haredim - United Torah Judaism and Shas - comprise 14 seats, not including the mayor. "It depends on how you look at this data," says Shkedi. "Until I was elected to the city council 20 years ago, we had only one representative. With my arrival, we doubled our presence overnight. And besides that, the NRP list in the city council in Jerusalem is the largest in the country." Largest or not, even Shkedi doesn't deny that the situation isn't so simple. "In the last elections, we had to compete with our own side, with voters identified with the Left, like Meimad [supporters] who voted for non-religious lists, and on the other side, the list run by Moledet and National Union, and both took from our votes. I hope that in these coming elections we will not face this kind of challenge." For the moment, it seems that the biggest challenge comes from inside - Mina Fenton - and this is no secret. "I believe that if I had been given the chance to be deputy mayor, I would have been able to do even more than what I did with my poor means," she says. "I know that today, there is no chance at all that a woman could head an NRP list, not a single chance, so I will have to keep on promoting the issues I care about - like the fight against missionaries - from another position than the comfortable one as city council member." For Gabbai, 36, a lawyer, who is married and father of three, nothing is settled. "We at the NRP, are not a 'kind of hassidic court' we don't have admorim [spiritual leaders] to obey and in any case, the ultimate decision is a democratic one, to be taken after elections in the local branch of the NRP, where, and this is no secret, I have many, many supporters," he says. "But of course I do not wish to light any fire or tension between me and Hadari, who is a fine man. I just want to express my belief that until the elections in our party, nothing is sealed." For Hadari, things seem a little bit more definite: "I will be, God willing, the next deputy mayor from the NRP," he says during the break at the city council meeting last Thursday evening. Two days later, during a phone conversation, Hadari admits that "we shall have elections, the decision will be the result of free elections at the party council," but adds that he is "confident in my record to help me obtain the title. "I have a lot of experience, I am at the head of a large organization that employs over 3,000 employees [the Emuna education network], I have lots of experience in the education field and education is the heart of the matter for our public, so I am very confident," he says. Still, both Hadari and Gabbai say that regardless of the electoral outcome, they will stay on as members of the list at city council. "I am not so sure about that," says an NRP source. "They both came here in order to prepare themselves for the 'real thing,' the head of the list and the post of deputy mayor. Both of them understood that they needed at least one term as 'volunteer,' but I hardly see each one of these two young, educated men - who are anxious to succeed - accepting another five years without any real power." "Hadari is the best for the job," Shkedi says. "I have prepared him, I have taught him, he is ready for the job and he is a fine man. He should be the one selected. "Of course we will hold [primary] elections, but I am sure of its outcome."