Municipal polling stations will open this morning to a complex political situation: a national government in pre-election mode and a ridiculously large number of party lists for the local elections. The multiplicity of parties would seem to reinforce democracy, but in fact it weakens local-government heads, obliging them to put together impossible, paralyzing coalitions.
The authority of mayors and local-council heads in Israel is limited to begin with, bound by obsolete, Mandate-era regulations. Municipal and regional-council budgets are channeled through various government ministries - social affairs, education, interior, housing, transportation and health - making it difficult for the mayor or council head to set priorities in accordance with local needs. As a result, authorities lacking a broad tax base have piled up large deficits. Recently corruption, political appointments and nepotism have caused certain local authorities to collapse.
All of these factors have eroded the public's faith in its elected officials at the local level. In recent years voter participation has declined to a worrying degree, mainly in localities where there is no viable alternative to the disappointing incumbent government. The weakening of the major parties finds its unfortunate expression here, too; none of them have supplied a new generation of local leaders.
This is precisely why it is important to do the right political thing, to vote and support good, new candidates, but also reward mayors who have kept their promises. In the important, central city of Tel Aviv, MK Dov Khenin is challenging long-serving Mayor Ron Huldai. Khenin heads Ir Lekulanu, a new list that has attracted media attention and young voters alike. Their protest is important, but most of their arguments, including the claim that Huldai is "mayor for the wealthy," are unfounded.
Huldai inherited a crowded city with run-down infrastructure, negative migration and an annual budget deficit of between NIS 140 million and NIS 180 million. Ten years later, Tel Aviv has an annual budget surplus of NIS 20 million despite having the highest per-capita expenditure rate in the country, excluding the municipality's subsidiary companies. Significant infrastructure work has been carried out. Improvements have been made to public-transport-only lanes, the city's boulevards and the boardwalk and promenade along the beach. The southern neighborhoods have received particular attention, while investment - in quantity and quality - in health, culture and welfare has increased.
Huldai is not perfect. In addition to his rigidity, which is often interpreted as dismissiveness, city hall under his administration suffers from old flaws he has not eradicated, above all the corruption in the building licensing and supervision departments. On certain historic streets, most of all Allenby Street, the neglect has only increased during his tenure. The lack of a high-capacity mass-transit system in Israel's largest metropolis is also an acute issue. Granted, this is a national project, but one could expect the mayor to put greater effort into its realization.
Despite these and other problems, Huldai has proved himself to be a dedicated, fair and industrious mayor who has kept most of his promises. Those are the facts, and because of them he deserves to be rewarded once again with the public's trust.
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