Jerusalem votes in its first Sephardic mayor

In a tight race with low voter turnout, the religious right-wing candidate beat his secular opponent (51.46%-48.54%).

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

City council member Moshe Lion declared victory Wednesday over candidate Ofer Berkovitch in Tuesday’s runoff election to become Jerusalem’s first mayor of Sephardic descent.

The race was extremely close, with only about 6,500 votes separating the candidates. This did not include roughly 8,500 votes from soldiers, prisoners and hospitalized city residents, which have yet to be counted.

However, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. certain the margin was sufficient, called the race for Lion.

“Jerusalem tonight chose unity, the sense of togetherness, the good,” Lion said in his victory speech, promising to be “the mayor of all of Jerusalem’s residents, whoever they may be.”

Only 31.5 percent of the city’s eligible voters went to the polls, which took place on a regular work day were open from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Although losing the top job, however, Berkovitch’s Hitorerut party will be the largest in the municipal council with seven seats, while Lion will have to get special permission to become mayor as his independent party did not make it across the electoral threshold.

The 57-year-old Lion is an accountant by profession who served for  three years as the director-general of the Prime Minister’s office during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term, as well as Netanyahu’s economic advisor.

Lion also served as chairman of Israel Railways and later of the Jerusalem Development Authority before losing to Nir Barkat in the 2013 mayoral race.

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The run-off was held because by law no candidate can win who receives less than 40 percent of the vote.

In the main elections on Oct. 30, Lion received 33 percent and Berkovitch 29 percent, leading to the tense finish early Wednesday morning.

Across Israel, 54 regional councils, cities and towns were forced into a second round of voting to decide their local leaders.