Upsets, run-offs and routs: Israel’s statewide local elections ran the gamut

Israel’s local elections on Tuesday saw its share of drama as voter turnout increased five percent over 2013. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Tel Aviv sticks with its mayor of 20 years, Jerusalem heads to a run-off, Haifa sees an upset and the mayor of one southern city enjoys the kind of victory numbers typically reserved to dictators.

Voter turnout reached 57 percent in yesterday’s countrywide municipal elections that included every imaginable outcome with its share of surprises. The total number of voters reached 3,66,2115 million, a five percent increase over the 2013 elections.

Local election turnout steadily sank since 1965. This year’s increase is credited to election day being declared a national holiday, giving the people time to vote.

Tel Aviv

Mayor Ron Huldai won his fifth term after beating his closest contender Assaf Zamir by a wide margin, (46% to 34%),  as well as candidates Assaf Harel (12.1%) and Natan Alnatan. Polls had predicted a much closer race.

Huldai greeted the press in front of his house this morning together with his wife. “I’m going to work like every other day. There’s still plenty to do in this city. I thank the residents that put there faith in me again.”

Adding drama to the race was the fact that Assaf Zamir served as his former deputy for the last decade. Zamir broke with Huldai. In his campaign for mayor, Huldai admitted that his former boss had made achievements but after 20 years in his position, it was time to pass the baton to someone new.

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Huldai did not mention his former protege by name in his victory speech. However, in what was perhaps a back-handed swipe at his competition, he thanked his supporters for running “a clean campaign.”

Haifa

In contrast to Tel Aviv, Haifa saw an upset. Dr. Einat Kalisch Rotem nabbed 55 percent of the vote to incumbent Yonah Yahav’s 38%. Yahav had served as mayor for the last 15 years.

In his concession speech, Yahav said, “It has been my great honor to serve this beautiful city. Haifa is my life’s work and I pray that the city’s new leadership will know how to protect what was achieved here in the last 15 years.”

Dr. Kalisch Rotem, 48, has a degree in architecture and teaches at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s graduate school.

She entered political life in 2012. Five years ago she ran for mayor and received only 14 percent of the vote. She has since sat on the city council where she was a vocal critic of Mayor Yahav.

Her upset was welcome news to her Labor Party,which struggles to find traction with voters. “This was a huge victory for Haifa,” party head Avi Gabbay said. “Einat proved that with hard work and determination, the polls can be defeated. Good luck to our mayor and to all residents of Haifa.”

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Dr. Kalisch Rotem is the first  woman elected to head a major city in Israel.

Jerusalem

Israel’s capital will see a run-off. Going head-to-head will be Jerusalem City Councilman Ofer Berkovitch (29%) and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Moshe Lion (33%). To win, a candidate needs to achieve at least a 40 percent threshold.

The second round will take place on Nov. 13.

Berkowitch, who is considered the secular candidate in the race, campaigned on improving the economy and bringing the various strands of Jerusalem society together, including Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews through better employment opportunities.

Deputy Mayor Lion, who enjoys the support of two ultra-Orthodox parties, campaigned on subsidized education, free parking to Jerusalem residents and establishing a fund to help young couples afford apartments. Lion competed for mayor in 2013 winning 45 percent of the vote, but ultimately fell to incumbent Nir Barkat.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the race was Zeev Elkin’s disappointing showing (20%). Elkin came in with the most name recognition of any of the candidates, currently serving as Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Minister of Environmental Protection in Israel’s Cabinet.

“The results are clear, and in politics you have to know not only how to win but sometimes to lose. Whomever wins [the second round], I will cooperate fully with him as Minister for Jerusalem affairs,” he said in his concession speech.

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Beersheba

The biggest vote of confidence of the state campaigns went to the mayor of Beersheba. Mayor Ruvik Danilovich received an astonishing 92 percent of the vote.

The 47-year-old has led Beersheba since 2008. In his 2013 re-election campaign, he also received 92 percent of the vote.