Secular Jerusalem mayor re-elected in tough race
By Ian Deitch, APJERUSALEM--After a nail-biting race that went on long into the night, the secular mayor of Jerusalem won a second term Wednesday in a hard-fought campaign that saw him fend off a challenger backed by two of Israel's biggest kingmakers in an election that was the centerpiece of nationwide municipal voting.
October 24, 2013, 12:07 am TWN
“Jerusalem won,” Mayor Nir Barkat declared in a victory speech at about 3: 30 a.m. He told supporters it had been a “tough and complex” battle and called for unity, saying “Jerusalem has room for everybody.”
Barkat won 51 percent of the vote while 45 percent went to Moshe Lion, who conceded defeat an hour earlier.
But the tough race belied the low turnout at polling stations across the country. Only 36 percent of Jerusalemites voted, compared to 31 percent in Tel Aviv and 45 percent in Haifa, according to media reports.
Initially, the low turnout was seen as playing to Lion's advantage as more motivated voters cast ballots in religious neighborhoods, considered Lion strongholds. The tide changed in Barkat's favor in the early hours Wednesday as more votes were counted.
In theory, Jerusalem's Arab community could have swung the city election, but — as in previous years — it boycotted this year's vote to protest Israel's control of the city. The international community does not recognize Israel's control of east Jerusalem.
Barkat, a successful former high-tech entrepreneur, first became mayor in 2008 in a victory seen as a blow to years of dominance by the strict ultra-Orthodox sector over Jerusalem's affairs. His first term, marked by high-profile tourism and cultural projects meant to boost the economy and halt an exodus of secular residents from the city, was generally seen as a success.
Himself an observant Jew, Lion was counting heavily on ultra-Orthodox voters. But in a last-minute blow, two leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis declined to endorse him late on Monday, telling their adherents to vote according to their conscience.
As he cast his vote on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his stance on the city's future.
“So long as I am prime minister, Jerusalem will remain our united capital. That's how it will be,” he said.