Barkat victorious in Jerusalem mayoral race

Incumbent beats challenger Lion by almost six percent; accuses Liberman, Deri of seeking to seize control of Jerusalem.

Barkat at elecion party 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Barkat at elecion party 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Nir Barkat was reelected mayor of Jerusalem on Tuesday night, beating Likud Beytenu candidate Moshe Lion by almost 6 percent of the vote, some 12,000 ballots.
A total of 218,512 people cast ballots in the mayoral election, representing 37.9% of eligible voters, down from 43% in 2008. Barkat won 51.1% of the vote while Lion received 45.3%.
The incumbent’s campaign staff became increasingly nervous throughout Tuesday due to low voter turnout, especially in nonharedi neighborhoods, coupled with high participation in ultra-Orthodox strongholds.
Following his victory, Barkat visited the Western Wall on Wednesday morning and said that in the coming weeks he would begin talking with all the political factions in the municipal council to build a coalition.
“We’ll start with those who supported me and move on to the others,” he noted wryly. “The objective is a broad, fair, coalition that can advance Jerusalem.”
Later on Wednesday, Barkat acknowledged that the race had been hard-fought and tough, while accusing Shas chairman Arye Deri and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who backed Lion, of seeking to seize control of Jerusalem.
“Both Liberman and Deri have a great deal of political power and they wielded all of it to silence people even though their own sectors were with me,” Barkat said in an interview with Channel 2.
The mayor has consistently touted his cross-sector appeal and the fact that haredi parties were part of his previous municipal administration and had expressed satisfaction with his leadership of the capital.
“I elected to work with the city residents and they [Deri and Liberman] chose to work the political system behind closed doors and by doing deals,” he continued, in explanation of why the election was so close.
The saving grace for Barkat was the disunity in haredi ranks which deprived Lion of several thousand crucial votes.
Bnei Torah, a breakaway non-hassidic haredi faction, refused to withdraw its candidate Haim Epstein from the race. He took 7,428 votes in the election, or 3.6% of those cast.
The party’s refusal to stand down led the hassidic groups in the city to believe that Lion could not win, and two of the largest hassidic courts, Gur and Belz, announced on the eve of the elections that they were not endorsing Lion for fear of burning their bridges with Barkat.
In his concession speech, Lion thanked Liberman for his support and wished the city of Jerusalem success into the future.
Lion has yet to say whether he will take up the single seat Likud Beytenu won on the municipal council.
“Yesterday was a celebration of democracy,” the losing candidate told the media.
“I lost, that’s the reality, and I wish only success for the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants in particular. I wish Barkat success and that he will be concerned only with the residents.”