How a young, secular candidate could take Jerusalem‘s mayoral race

The expected entrance into the Jerusalem mayor’s race of a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) candidate, Deputy Mayor Yossi Daitch, could ironically propel city councilman Ofer Berkovich, the only secular candidate, to the mayor’s office, Berkovich said Sunday.

The October 30 mayoral race currently includes three candidates who are religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox: Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Deputy Mayor Moshe Lion and Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, all of whom split the vote of that sector with Berkovich, whose Hitorerut list is half religious Zionist.

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In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Berkovich said he and Daitch were the only potential candidates who have a solid base of voters – him among secular voters and Daitch among haredim.

Berkovich, who quit his post as Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s deputy over Barkat’s decision to give schools in secular neighborhood to haredim, said Elkin and Lion were trying to attract haredi support, but they would lose it if there is a haredi candidate.

“If Daitch runs, Elkin and Lion are going home,” Berkovich said. “They will have no base to use to run.”

With so many candidates in the race, it is likely that a runoff will take place among the top two finishers, because none will obtain the 40% of the vote needed to win in one round of voting. While more than 40% of the voters have been haredi in recent races, this election could be different because it will be a work holiday, which would make it easier for non-haredim to vote.

Berkovich, 35, is the youngest candidate in the race. He was born and raised in Jerusalem and entered municipal politics after serving in an elite IDF unit. He compared himself to Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, who also grew in local politics and knew the needs and sensitivities of his city.

Since getting elected to the city council for the first time a decade ago, Berkovich takes credit for helping expand the amount of hi-tech companies in the city, making the Mahaneh Yehuda market into a popular hang-out at night, obtaining increased funding for cultural sites, subsidizing camps, allocating buildings to youth groups, breaking the Egged bus monopoly in the city, and saving its Smadar movie theater.

If elected, Berkovich intends to focus on attracting new businesses to the entrance to the city, where office towers are being built between government offices and the soon-to-be completed railway station, taking advantage of the 28-minute ride from Tel Aviv and the business tax that is much lower in Jerusalem.

“Developing business in the city is harder than doing it on a bus,” Berkovich said in an attack on Lion, whose bus ads promise that he would make Jerusalem into an “economic superpower.”

Berkovich also intends to pressure the national government to stop violating the law by keeping 165 government departments and their 10,000 jobs outside Jerusalem. He blamed Elkin for not doing enough in the cabinet to encourage construction in new neighborhoods like Givat Hamatos and Atarot.

He also said he did not believe that after serving in the security cabinet Elkin would be willing to deal with petty municipal issues, while he was ready to go out daily at 5:30 a.m. to pick up trash.

“I want to start with cleanliness,” Berkovich said. “I don’t know if Elkin is ready to do that. Translating between Netanyahu and Putin when the prime minister goes to Russia is very nice, but it is not what we need in Jerusalem.”

Berkovich also criticized Azaria, who ran on a joint ticket with him 10 years ago, but left for the Knesset soon after she was reelected to the city council.

”She knows she has no chance, while polls taken by media and other parties put me in the lead,” he said. “The public is not cynical. She is a talented woman, but her candidacy harms the religious and pluralist communities in Jerusalem.”