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Jerusalem Mayoral Candidates to Address English Speakers

Big tourist events or city services? Are they mutually exclusive? Barkat & Leon to address English-speaking audiences about J'slem's future.
By Ben Bresky
First Publish: 9/27/2013, 12:29 PM

OU Center Jerusalem Mayor Forum
OU Center Jerusalem Mayor Forum
http://www.ouisrael.org/

The two candidates in the Jerusalem mayoral elections will address English speakers at a special forum at the OU Israel Center on next week.

Moshe Leon (alternatively spelled Moshe Lion) will speak on Sunday September 29th at 7:30pm. According to event organizers his appearance will be mostly in "easy Hebrew" so that he can properly express his ideology without being misinterpreted.

For the past five years Leon served as head of the Jerusalem Development Authority which serves as a liaison between the government and the municipality to apportion funds earmarked for the city. Prior to that he was head of Israel Railways and served as Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office between 1997 and 1999. He is running as the official representative of the Likud- Yisrael Beyteinu party, and is currently polling second to front-runner and incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat.

Barkat himself - a fluent English-speaker - will be speaking on Wednesday October 2nd at 7:30pm.

Mayor Barkat was elected in 2008 as head of the Jerusalem Will Succeed party, sitting on the city council for five years previously. In 2006 he briefly represented the Kadima party but said he left because he feared Kadima would divide Jerusalem and give portions to the Palestinian Authority, something he strongly opposes. Prior to that he was a high-tech investor who made his millions developing antivirus software. This past month Forbes Israel magazine ranked Barkat Israel's richest politician with an estimated net worth at 450 million shekels, or approximately $122 million USD, more then the combined total of the next three politicians on the list.

Leon and Barkat have worked together on issues during his tenure. The two appear side-by-side in the new iTravel Jerusalem booklets which appear in English, Hebrew and other languages at local hotels and other tourist destinations, a project initiated by the Jerusalem Development Authority.

There are a number of marked differences between Leon and Barkat. Whereas Leon worked for years in public planning policy and is close to many insiders in the Knesset, Barkat comes from the private sector and is close to international investors in the business world. The kippa-wearing Leon is being endorsed by religious leaders while Barkat is being largely endorsed by secular leaders, thought both of their support bases are relatively mixed.

However, both candidates have stated a desire to build in all neighborhoods of the city regardless of the pre-1967 or post 1967 designations.

The real difference may be their vision on the city's future character. Barkat has long promoted making the city an international tourist destination on par with New York, London or Paris. However, local residents fear his plans could come at their cost, and see them burdened with street closings and high property taxes. Many have complained that the high taxes do not correspond with quality of city services.

Other issues are new lines being constructed for the light rail, a project which is still controversial. The issue of public facilities open on Shabbat is another item for debate with the opening this summer of the First Station, the entertainment complex built at the old railway station that is open on Shabbat but privately owned. The next major place that may or may not be open on Shabbat is the planned giant multi-screen Cinema City movie complex. Another hotly-debated issue is the lack of affordable housing. The overwhelming majority of the constant new buildings are being geared toward foreign investors, driving up prices for Jerusalemites and pricing-out many potential buyers. That may yet change, however, with a raft of controversial new laws that will double property taxes for non-residents.

Unlike Knesset elections, voters can choose a mayoral candidate separately from their vote for their preferred political party list running in the city council elections. Two candidates who this past week withdrew their bid for mayor are still running for city council.

Yosef "Pepe" Alalu has withdrawn his short lived candidacy for mayor of Jerusalem. The long-time city council member will continue to run for re-election as a member of the Jerusalem municipality. Five years ago Alalu ran a campaign promising to "keep Jerusalem secular," and this election season he has added a focus on fighting against "the ultra-Orthodox and extreme right wing elements in their support Moshe Leon." He has yet to endorse either Leon or the incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat, whom he has criticized in the past for his plan to refurbish the historic King's Garden area near the Old City and evict illegal Arab squatters. This year Alalu's Meretz party is running on a joint list with the Labor party.

Also withdrawing his candidacy is Arieh King, who will continue his bid for city council with the United Jerusalem/Outlying Neighborhoods Slate. King is well-known as the head of the Israel Land Fund and advocates for Jewish communities in predominantly Arab neighborhoods. United Jerusalem is headed by former Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Shmuel Shkedi with Rabbi Yonatan Yosef, the son of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef and grandson of leading Sephardic scholar Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, filling the fourth slot.

Elections will be held on October 22nd. Voting cards have already been mailed of to most residents indicating their polling location. Municipal elections are held every five years, and most cities and towns throughout Israel will also hold elections on the same date. The Orthodox Union's Israel Center, located at 22 Keren Hayesod Street in midtown Jerusalem, is apolitical and is offering the event as a public service.