City Hall heats up as summer break kicks in

Apart from one or two people at the city council meeting, nobody tried to tell the mayor that this time he'd gone too far.

uri lupolianski 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
uri lupolianski 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Last Thursday was the last city council meeting before the long summer vacation. Our dear elected representatives are finally getting some rest - even the committees will not meet until next September. Is it too long a vacation? Well, it depends whom you ask. Some people, like the non-elected professionals at Kikar Safra, might see it differently, and with more than a tinge of sarcasm. "No committees and no city council meetings sometimes equals no problematic decisions or votes," said a veteran staffer from the fifth floor (where the department heads and executives sit). And maybe, after what happened toward the end of last Thursday's city council meeting, we should add: "No city council, no shame." The truth is that for the first hour-and-a-half, last week's meeting was more or less a regular meeting with the usual mix of endless private conversations among different members of the city council. While a few others - always the same people - ran from one place to another, with at least one cellular phone affixed to their ear (sometimes even two), their assistants moved in and out of the hall, chatted with the (fewer and fewer) journalists present, and at times approached the mayor with suggestions or to check documents. After all, city council meetings often look like a student gathering with a very indulgent supervisor hanging around. There are also a few regular scenes to take in: Meretz city council member Rali Ben-David, sporting high heels and low necklines, can often be found outside smoking. Rabbi Shlomo Rosenstein, from United Torah Judaism, keeps in shape by walking all meeting long, inside and outside the meeting area, with a cellphone in each hand, as he chats with other councilors (mostly the non-religious) and above all journalists. He too spends much time outside, adding his own smoke to Ben-David's. And at each meeting, you can always find at least one member who apparently feels the need to get away from the raucous. More often than not it's a member of United Torah Judaism, and his version of acting in the public's best interest is to study a page of Gemara. "It's not so bad," a member of one of the secular parties quipped. "Once or twice he [UTJ councilor] was so deeply engrossed in his Talmud that he forgot to vote with the mayor's coalition." Last Thursday, everything seemed typically boring and frustrating with predictable coalition votes, and even more predictable - and usually of very little interest - opposition party questions. Even the presence of a group of taxi drivers, who were invited by opposition leader Nir Barkat to protest the municipality's decision to charge them extra fees for parking spaces, didn't shake the dull ambience. City councilor Avi Kostelitz, once a member of Barkat's party, remarked that there was little over a year before the next elections, adding bitterly: "If we don't wake up and do something, after the next elections it will even be worse and the city will be totally lost. We, the non-haredim, must unite and fight back for the city." I agreed, trying not to let cynical thoughts take over. You know, like the fact that Kostelitz and two of his friends split from Barkat's list, illustrating more than anything that unity was not a permanent resident here. But hey, I said no cynical thoughts. We're going on vacation. And then it came. Unexpected, harsh, rude and yes, frightening. Even as he managed - God knows how - to maintain his famous smile, Mayor Uri Lupolianski suddenly broke from his legendary good temper and started barking at Meretz city council member Sa'ar Netanel. The issue was not a striking one: During the vote on a tax break for nonprofit organizations in the city, the coalition refused to reduce the New Israel Fund and Shatil's property tax, and Netanel insisted that the decision was "ugly revenge because these institutions supported the [gay and lesbian] Open House." A discussion on the matter ensued between Netanel and Rosenstein (minus his cellphones), who sat beside the mayor, without any particular drama. But then the mayor apparently had had enough, and he turned on his microphone and in a rousing voice said: "Enough, enough, haven't you heard? I'm telling you to stop this and you keep talking. You don't understand, do you? So I'm saying to you now: Shut up!" At first neither Netanel nor his peers realized that Lupolianski's comments were directed at him, but then Netanel looked around and saw that a lot of people were staring at him, shocked, and he paled. Still sitting, Netanel seemed to be shivering, his shoulders caving under an ever-growing burden of hatred. And then he left the hall. Apart from one or two people, nobody tried to tell the mayor that this time he'd gone too far, that by acting that way toward Netanel he was hurting thousands of citizens who had elected him. Instead they went on with their business. I guess that's the way things work around here.