By EDNA SHEMESH
Rehovot residents will go to the polls for the third time in a year on Tuesday to vote in a new mayor.
Only last November, Shuky Forer was voted in for a third term after a second round of voting despite an ongoing investigation against him for supplying municipal work without tender to a contractor who had contributed money to one of Forer's previous election campaigns. That investigation culminated in an indictment shortly before the election and on December 31, 2008, Forer pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to breach of trust.
He was forced to to leave office at the end of March this year after the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court ruled that his crimes constituted moral turpitude, and he was replaced by Rahamim Maloul (Shas).
The rejection of his appeal to the High Court of Justice in September 2009 to drop "moral turpitude" paved the way for Tuesday's re-run.
Competing against Maloul for the job are Uzi Salant, running as an independent, but with the backing of Kadima, and Ami Feinstein, (Independent).
Salant, a former general manager of Kupat-Holim Meuchedet, dragged Forer to a second round of voting last time around and the latest poll - albeit commissioned by Salant - shows him taking 41.7% of the vote. Feinstein is forecast to come in second with 29.9% ahead of Maloul on 28.2%. Turnout for the poll is forecast at 58.6%.
Feinstein, who returned to Rehovot after six years in Australia, will be making his third attempt to be elected as Rehovot's Mayor, after defeats in 1993 and in 1998.
"I am a pragmatic person and an experienced manager, and I came back home because I want to serve the residents of Rehovot," Feinstein told Metro.
Despite being behind in the polls, Feinstein has already achieved one campaign victory. When informed that soldiers from Rehovot would not be able to vote as the IDF does not provide ballot boxes and voting stations for local elections, Feinstein petitioned to the High Court of Justice and won: All the Rehovot soldiers will get a one-day furlough and will be allowed to exercise their right to vote.
Acting Mayor Maloul had been ahead of Feinstein in the polls, but has found himself under attack of late from both the secular and religious camps.
Some 25 percent of Rehovot's population is religious with haredim accounting for around 10 percent.
On campaign billboards, Maloul's black kippa seems to be carefully hidden, which, according to skeptics, has only enhanced the fear that he merely presents himself as a pluralist whereas he might "shut down the city during Shabbat."
In an interview Maloul gave to one of the local newspapers recently, he announced that the secular population of Rehovot need not worry and that the city will stay open on Shabbat. This was met by outraged reactions from the haredi community who put up 'pashkevilim' against him. This has left Maloul very cautious during his interviews to the local media, doing his best to appear pluralistic, as he truly believes he is.
Feinstein is counting on his business record and connections to propel him to success. "I brought the train to Rehovot thanks to my connections in the government, I helped open the city on Friday nights and I contributed to the foundation of 'Park Hamada,' the hi-tech park," says Feinstein.
But despite the promises of all the candidates, not all the residents of Rehovot are convinced.
"Rehovot has been in a wretched condition for years," says Tali Nachmias, 46, a sales manager in a printing business. "The municipality doesn't care about us at all. They have a zillion workers and they keep wasting the tax-payers' money."
On election-day, if none of the candidates gets 40 percent of the votes, the residents of Rehovot will have to go out again, for round four.
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