Center Field: Elkin most 'Kolleky' in Jerusalem mayoral race

In that spirit, Yossi Daitch, the ultra-Orthodox candidate, has been challenging non-haredi voters effectively.

Slichot at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, September 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Slichot at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, September 2018
Reuven Rivlin’s momentous speech opening the Knesset last week applies to the Jerusalem mayoral race too. “In the political discourse of ‘package deals,’ it’s all or nothing” these days, Israel’s marvelous president warned. But “real people can have several beliefs at the same time... our complex views are also what binds us together.”
In that spirit, Yossi Daitch, the ultra-Orthodox candidate, has been challenging non-haredi voters effectively. “You’re judging me by my beard,” he says. “Why not try looking past it and listening to me?” Many walked away charmed, further clouding the four-man fight, which culminates on October 30, to succeed Mayor Nir Barkat.
Daitch’s challenge got me wondering what motivates any vote for anyone, and whether we distinguish between voting for mayor and prime minister. He hasn’t convinced me, but he helped me free myself from my tribalism to embrace Rivlinesque complexity and endorse someone I wouldn’t choose as prime minister but who is most likely to be a good mayor, Ze’ev Elkin.
By Jerusalem politics’ tribal rules, I should endorse the most liberal candidate, Ofer Berkovitch. Only he passed the “Beitar test,” answering a tricky question, as I would, that anyone, Arab or Jew, should be welcomed to play for Jerusalem’s hyper-nationalist soccer team. It’s theoretical, of course, merely an identity signifier and values marker. Still, I prefer politicians who stretch to make Israel as democratic as possible. If Berkovitch were opposing Elkin for Knesset, my first instinct would be Berkovitch.
But Berkovitch’s more liberal approach nationally won’t affect my local vote. Elkin passes the more relevant, municipally oriented tests honoring my two favorite mayors: Ed Koch and Teddy Kollek.
First, the Koch test. New York’s popular mayor Ed Koch said, Rivlin-style: “If you agree with me on seven of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”
I agree with Elkin enough to vote for him. At a meet-and-greet I attended, he tackled relevant issues regarding Jerusalem’s Arab population. Regardless of his national political stance, Elkin sees the poverty and alienation of 38% of our fellow Jerusalemites as pressing problems demanding pragmatic solutions, not posturing. He analyzed the educational, employment, and housing challenges. Solving them would improve the city’s dynamics – no matter who wears Beitar’s yellow and black.
Most important – and Elkin’s biggest contrast with Berkovitch: Elkin seems the most likely to pass the Teddy Kollek test: Get the job done! Today, few remember Kollek’s national political positions. We revere Kollek for how he nurtured Jerusalem. Berkovitch’s problem isn’t his age (35). It’s the opposite. Despite having served on and off the city council since 2008, the shadow he casts is muted, his footprint, too small. He risks becoming Jerusalem’s Dan Quayle: boyish in looks, stunted in stature.
By contrast, Elkin has the gravitas, maturity, sobriety and vision Jerusalem needs. And he benefited from ideal on-the-job training. As Jerusalem Affairs Minister, he’s looked over Nir Barkat’s shoulder carefully, learning without limits while respecting his constraints as minister, not mayor. That takes discipline and wisdom, two traits Elkin has in abundance.
BEYOND SEEKING a mayor with the vision and effectiveness of a Kollek or Koch, I have a more local concern: stopping Barkat’s blunder, the expensive, extraneous, dangerous Emek Refaim Blue Line, which would parallel the needed Hebron Road rail line. The plan is idiotic. Eleven traffic lights would torment pedestrians and drivers. Its rerouting of traffic through narrow alleyways is Chelm-like. And it would destroy many jobs and the neighborhood’s historic charm.
Nevertheless, at the last minute Barkat is trying to muscle his plan through the Regional Planning Council, undemocratically preventing the new mayor from involving the local council. Such machinations also disrespect Barkat’s preferred candidate – Elkin – who advocates an intelligent tunneling alternative.
A bigger issue looms: The light rail fight tests every Jerusalemite: Do we preserve Jerusalem’s historic heritage, our uniqueness as a city, or reduce it to another generic mass shopping mall imposed on an urban grid? Elkin seems most sensitive to this concern, most likely to pass this old-new test. Not only has Berkovitch sounded contemptuous regarding many of these concerns, he was embarrassingly unprepared for specific questions during a recent neighborhood forum addressing the transportation question.
When people doubt your seriousness, if you can’t even put on a good show of it when running, your detractors start looking like truth-tellers.
It’s not easy being Jerusalem’s mayor. You need the subtle touch of an ace diplomat – representing Jerusalem globally, while navigating around a Middle East time bomb. You require the spider sense of a crackerjack manager, administering a complex, multidimensional city saddled with too much garbage, too much poverty, not enough of a job base, and too many know-it-alls bossing you around. You should have the soul of a poet, appreciating that you’re responsible for the Jewish people’s greatest urban treasure and one of the world’s most magnificent capitals. And you must have big feet, so you can fill the shoes of King David, King Solomon, Ezra and Nehemiah, who built the city way back when; of Dov Yosef, who helped the city survive the 1948 siege; and of Teddy Kollek, who made the city a world-class metropolis.
The candidate most suited for that job is a thoughtful academic, a decent family man, a renowned educator, a fast learner, a savvy game-player, an experienced leader, a super-smart guy with great potential to be yet another larger-than-life leader of Jerusalem, Ze’ev Elkin.
The writer is the author of the newly released The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.