The mayors of three major cities who ran on Labor's ticket in last week's local elections on Thursday pledged to support MK Isaac Herzog in the Labor Party's leadership election on November 21.
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The support of Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, Rishon Letzion mayor Dov Zur and Kfar Sava mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo is seen as a coup for Herzog, who has so far failed to present a significant support team. The mayors yesterday issued a statement saying "Herzog will restore democracy and transparency to the party."
"He will strengthen it as a significant political power and bring many supporters who have abandoned it back to the party," the statement said, hinting at the alleged weaknesses of Herzog's rival, current party leader Shelly Yacimovich.
So far only two MKs Eitan Cabel and Erel Margalit have openly supported Herzog, compared to the nine MKs in Yacimovich's corner.
Yacimovich, who has been criticized for not being able to work in a team, managed nonetheless to unite the new and veteran MKs behind her. She is backed by nine of Labor's 13 faction members (excluding herself and Herzog).
MK Omer Bar-Lev, the last to pledge his support, said this week that as far as he's concerned she is the only one capable of leading the party in the next general election.
Three Labor MKs Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, party secretary general Hilik Bar and Merav Michaeli have refrained from taking sides in the campaign so far.
Herzog was due to kick off his campaign last night in a festive event in Tel Aviv, with supporters bused in from major cities nationwide, from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Be'er Sheva and Julis in the Negev. His ability to recruit the more prominent among the mayors identified with Labor could help him to awaken the sleepy campaign ahead of the election.
Yacimovich, in contrast, is supported by a considerable group of mayors of smaller towns, such as Simon Alfasi of Yokne'am and Michael Biton of Yeruham, as well as new mayors Avi Binamo of Nesher, Israel Gal of Kiryat Ono and Lizzie Dilharizia of Ganei Tikva.
Both candidates cited the local election results to advance their campaigns. While Yacimovich boasted the victory of 25 authority heads identified with Labor and took credit for their success, Herzog underscored Labor's failure to get more party people into city councils.
Herzog's campaign staff believe that Labor's field activists, disappointed with the party's poor performance in the local elections, will retaliate against Yacimovich in the primary. They also expect the addition of Huldai, Zur and Ben-Hamo to their camp to drum up grassroots support for their candidate.
Herzog's staff say the race is close, but Yacimovich's people say she has a 20% advantage. Some 1,500 of Yacimovich's activists have recently canvased 55,000 party members, marking some 30,000 of them as her supporters.