After a slow start, Mayor Nir Barkat is making some surprising announcements.
By PEGGY CIDOR
Mayor Nir Barkat stepped out of the bunker this week. After spending several weeks sequestered in his chambers surrounded by his staff, Barkat seems to have grasped the enormity of his position and has come up with a host of decisions, some of them bold, and others that are just a recognition of his limits. While it is too early to assess how far Barkat will go to implement his decisions - which involve some radical changes in the budget and in perspective - they show that the new mayor certainly has the guts to man the helm of the municipality.
Let's start with Barkat's limits. After freezing construction on the Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance and dropping a hint at a meeting at the Moriah construction company, a sister company of the municipality, that he would be more than happy to move the museum to an alternative location (apparently between French Hill and Isawiya), Barkat had to admit that this was beyond his power. Not only has the project already cost $25 million, but all the building permits have been granted and the High Court has ruled that there were no grounds to move it from the Muslim burial site nearby. Barkat had already opposed its location when he was city council opposition leader. He welcomed the idea of the Center for Human Dignity in principle but strongly criticized a downtown location, suggesting the museum strip instead.
A few days before this announcement, Barkat succeeded where two of his predecessors had failed. The prestigious (and very expensive) Arena Project has finally obtained the necessary funding from Mifal Hapayis. Some criticism has already been voiced, saying that the stadium project - with some 5,700 seats - no longer fulfills the needs of the city.
If you own a store downtown and suffer financial loss because of the roadwork for the light rail, the following might be of great importance to you. In response to city council opposition member Meir Turgeman's request that the merchants be granted a substantial reduction on their municipal taxes, the mayor is considering suing CityPass, the company in charge of the roadwork. When Turgeman presented this request at the last city council meeting, coalition member Elisha Peleg (Likud) countered that the CityPass owners should not be held responsible. Barkat decided to form a committee to check the feasibility of such a lawsuit. City council coalition member and supermarket tycoon Rami Levy will head the committee.
Remember the additional budget of NIS 10 million for the Culture Department that Barkat announced the day after his victory? Well, according to sources inside Kikar Safra, it appears that the money will not be added to the institutions that have been funded by the municipality until now but will go to other institutions and cultural projects that have felt somewhat neglected.
And to close this edition of Corridors, here's a story of the kind that can - apparently - happen only here: City council member Yair Gabbai, No. 2 on the Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) list, has been appointed the head of the religious Zionist headquarters for the Likud in the general elections. According to Gabbai and the head of the local Likud branch, "there is room for every religious Zionist inside the Likud."
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