Latecomer Khenin increasingly pressuring TA incumbent Huldai
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, whose reelection seemed a mere formality up until a few months ago, is under increasing pressure from latecomer MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), recent polls show.
Though Huldai is still firmly ahead of his opponents, Khenin's campaign has galvanized many young voters, which may cost the incumbent his clear majority of more than 40 percent of the electorate and force him into a runoff.
The two candidates have put forth differing and sometimes opposing visions for the city, and for many, the struggle between the two has taken on almost epic proportions.
One of the key issues on which the two differ is transportation. During his tenure, Huldai has come under fire from environmental groups for his massive investment in private transportation infrastructure, which they say increases pollution and road congestion.
If elected for another term, Huldai is promising to concentrate on promoting the light rail project, which has hit delays partly because of the mayor's opposition to the government plan. Huldai wants parts of the light rail to be underground, in order to help relieve traffic congestion, while the treasury wants a surface rail in order to cut costs.
Huldai's campaign officials said he would also encourage residents to ride bicycles by paving special bike lanes and creating a system of easy bike rentals, while also improving bus services. City residents will continue to have free parking in their neighborhoods, officials added.
Meanwhile, Khenin has charted out an ambitious plan to cut the number of vehicles in the city by setting aside 14 lanes for public transportation. Under the plan, buses will pass by as frequently as every three minutes, reducing carbon emissions and traffic on the road. Khenin says his plan will provide immediate relief for the city's jammed streets.
He also criticized Huldai's bike lanes, which sometimes amount to nothing more than a lick of paint on the sidewalk. The Hadash lawmaker says he would set aside lanes currently used by vehicles for bicycle use only.
Housing is another subject of contention between the two. Under Huldai, Tel Aviv had been declared a UNESCO heritage site for its abundance of Bauhaus-style buildings. The mayor promises to continue encouraging the preservation of such buildings, while encouraging new construction mostly in the south of the city.
Despite the spurt in construction across town, the cost of rent has soared in recent years, alienating many younger voters attracted to Khenin's plan to make housing more affordable. Khenin suggests a number of measures, such as forcing contractors to set aside affordable apartments in every new project. Khenin also wants to require contractors to set aside 25 percent of the apartments in new projects for rent instead of for sale.
Under his plan, Khenin will freeze all evictions of illegal tenants until a new collective agreement is reached.
Regarding the city's cultural scene, Khenin would reduce the "commercialization" of city events, and increase investment in community movements and fringe theatre. Huldai would focus on strengthening established cultural entities such as Habima, the Cameri and the Tel Aviv Museum.