One politician who was quick to complain about the extension of Amram Mitzna's term as Yeruham's government-appointed mayor was MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism). In a letter to the Union of Local Authorities, Porush called this an offense to elected mayors, who in the future will be easily replaced by appointed officials, and to Yeruham residents, who have been prevented from choosing their own mayor.

In another three months, Porush is expected to run as UTJ's candidate for mayor of Jerusalem. Thus the support of a representative of one of Israel's least democratic parties for the democratic rights of Yeruham residents should surprise no one. Porush knows that the greatest threat to his chances of running the capital is government intervention.

As things look right now, his victory in November is almost guaranteed. The city's Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) minority, on orders from its rabbis, will show up to the man on election day. They will be joined by substantial segments of the religious Zionist public, which is becoming increasingly Haredi. In contrast, the secular will split their votes between at least two candidates, Nir Barkat and Arcadi Gaydamak. Kadima, Labor and Likud have all abandoned the city and will not field candidates of their own. Given the choices, it will be hard to blame secular Jerusalemites if they once again opt to shun the polling booths en masse.

The campaign will be one-dimensional: Haredim versus secular. Porush will primarily strive to unify his home constituency. Barkat, a high-tech millionaire who failed once before by running a somnolent campaign that kept secular voters at home, and who has not been wise enough in the ensuing five years to constitute a proper fighting opposition to Mayor Uri Lupolianski, will nevertheless present himself as the defender of the silent secular majority. Gaydamak, who has been commuting in recent months between Teddy Stadium and leading rabbis, will try to buy votes with bread and soccer.

Polls published in the local Jerusalem papers - almost all of them financed by either Barkat or Gaydamak - have no relevance. Only two unlikely scenarios, a rift in the Haredi camp or a doubling of the secular voter turnout, can deprive Porush of the 40 percent he needs to win.

Lupolianski tried to give his term in office a facade of cooperation with all the city's diverse population groups. Porush, in contrast, is a sectarian politician who has never tried to conceal his desire to assist only those affiliated with him. Thus Porush's victory would definitively end any hope of rehabilitation for this impoverished, neglected and conflict-ridden city.

But even if Porush loses, it is hard to be enthusiastic about the alternatives. Jerusalem is several sizes too big for a politician as utterly lacking in managerial experience as Barkat, while the possibility of an oligarch like Gaydamak serving as mayor of Israel's capital is positively frightening. Efforts to recruit a politician from the national league, or an experienced candidate with broad public support such as former Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy or the director of Hadassah Medical Organization, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, have all failed.

Jerusalemites can thus be envious of Yeruham residents, who know that they are assured another two years of calm, sensible management.

The three current candidates have one thing in common: All tilt strongly rightward. Porush is fondly remembered by the settlers from the days when he ran the Housing Ministry in Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Barkat has placed himself at the head of the lobby against any diplomatic compromise on Jerusalem over the past two years, while Gaydamak has never hidden his nationalist views.

Because any agreement with the Palestinians will entail an agreement on joint administration of at least part of the city, the capital's mayor will have significant power to torpedo any such move. Just consider the impact of then mayor Ehud Olmert's decision to open the Western Wall tunnel, or the destructive potential of a mayoral decision to demolish homes in East Jerusalem.

The only long-term solution for Jerusalem's ills is legislation that would expropriate substantial portions of the municipality's authority and transfer it to a special ministry or government department established for this purpose. Various detailed proposals along these lines already exist, such as one to establish a super-municipality that would manage the capital's entire urban expanse, including the satellite cities of Mevasseret Zion, Tzur Hadassah and Ma'aleh Adumim, while splitting Jerusalem into several quarters that would run their own municipal affairs autonomously.

Opponents of such a move will charge that it is anti-democratic. Yet far older democracies treat their capitals in similar ways. The American constitution gives Washington, D.C., special status, and some of its affairs are managed by the federal government. In 1985, the British parliament voted to abolish the Greater London Council, on the grounds that it had become wasteful and inefficient.

Israel's government has every justification for assuming responsibility for its capital city.