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Ron Huldai Photo: Michael Kremer
Ron Huldai Photo: Michael Kremer
 
 

Smell of political garbage

Op-ed: Current electoral system makes it virtually impossible for mayors to do their job

Baruch Leshem
Published: 10.23.13, 10:56 / Israel Opinion

Teddy Kollek ruled Jerusalem for 28 years. During his time as mayor (1965-1993), Kollek became the person who was most identified with the capital, both in Israel and the world. Most of Jerusalem's residents are ultra-Orthodox and rightists, and yet they still elected a man who represented the hated Labor Party. During the election campaigns, Kollek's people did not have to explain why he was the best candidate. The slogan was simple: "We love you, Teddy."

 

Despite his prominent status, both in Israel and abroad, Kollek made it a point to define himself as the head of a municipality and not as the mayor of a city. He saw his role mainly as the provider of services for the residents. He used to follow the garbage men at dawn to make sure they were cleaning the city properly. Then he would pass by Jerusalem's gardens to see if the department in charge of improving the city's façade had planted the flowers he had asked them to plant.

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Kollek's success stemmed from the fact that despite being one of Ben-Gurion's boys, he was not perceived as a party man. There is a reason why he called his faction "One Jerusalem." It was comprised not only of party activists, but also of people who had proven themselves in various fields. This allowed him to present to the public a team of doers rather than wheelers and dealers. This team included Amiram Sivan, the former director general of the Treasury; and Amos Mar-Haim, who served as director general of the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

 

The second reason for Kollek's success was the fact that he had a majority in the 31-member city council, or close to a majority, and was therefore not dependent on other parties to run City Hall and did not have to waste its resources by offering unnecessary positions to their representatives as political bribes. The money was used to provide services for the residents, such as education and sanitation.

 

This may be the main problem of today's local governments – too much politics and not enough municipal services. In a poll conducted over the weekend, 63% of the respondents said there was corruption in the local councils. Four indictments have been filed against mayors over the past year.

 

The current electoral system, in which residents vote separately for the mayor and for the city council, is partly to blame for this situation. Does it remind you of anything? Yes, the direct election for prime minister, which was instituted in Israel in 1996. The system led to political scheming and the collapse of governments until it was abolished in 2001.

 

In the municipalities, this system continues hurt the people who head them. In the big cites the councils have 31 members. Ron Huldai's list "One Tel Aviv" won only five council seats in the previous elections. His municipal coalition consists of nine factions – each with its own demands. In Jerusalem, Nir Barkat's "Jerusalem Will Succeed" faction won six seats, and Yona Yahav's Our Haifa" faction has four seats in the city's council.

 

Israel's citizens voted yesterday so that their elected mayor will make their lives, in their respective communities, better. Instead, they will get a mayor whose main job is to improve the lives of the politicians who will make up the city council. Kollek followed the trucks to smell the municipal garbage. Today's mayors are forced to smell the political garbage.

 

 

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