Gaydamak Likely to Surrender Jerusalem Race to Deri

Russian-born businessman Arcadi Gaydamak is expected to give up on his plans to run for mayor of Jerusalem after former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri announced yesterday he is running for the same post.

Even though Gaydamak has not made a final decision, his advisers say Deri's candidacy would seriously harm Gaydamak's chances in both the ultra-Orthodox and non-religious communities.

Until a few days ago, Gaydamak's camp acted under the assumption that Deri would not be able to run due to convictions of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in 2000. But yesterday he asked the Central Elections Committee to allow him to run.

Last week Gaydamak decided to liquidate his business holdings in Israel and concentrate on his political activities and Social Justice party, as well as his bid for mayor. Gaydamak's supporters continued to work for him based on the view that Deri was unable to run; just this week four Jerusalem city council members came out in support of Gaydamak.

His advisers also checked whether city councillor Avi Kostelitz, a former deputy chief of the Shin Bet security service, would agree to head Gaydamak's election campaign.

Gaydamak's campaign headquarters also considered publishing a special election newspaper in three versions: one for the ultra-Orthodox community, one for the Arab sector and one for the general public. But Deri's decision to run has changed everything, and Gaydamak, who flew to Moscow yesterday and was unavailable for comment, is now expected to announce he is quitting the race.

Nevertheless, Deri's decision may turn out to be more of a blessing than a curse for Gaydamak, even though he truly wants to be the capital's mayor. Only last week he said he would win, let alone run. His advisers were busy explaining how their data showed that he could come out on top.

Gaydamak spent the past few months quietly campaigning, working from the outermost circles of Jerusalem society to the center. He secretly met with the mufti of Jerusalem, who also represents the Palestinian Authority.

He met also with the Vatican's representative in the Holy Land, and with other religious leaders to help guarantee their support in encouraging East Jerusalem voters to come out on election day. But his announcements of undeniable victory have become more subdued.

Gaydamak's business affairs, which have been filling newspapers' business sections, have eroded his political and public status.

Even if Gaydamak still has huge amounts of money and still deserves the title of "oligarch," his image of being all-powerful, on which he built his political status, has soured.

Deri's candidacy has provided Gaydamak with a respectable way to back down from his desire to be mayor. Many in his inner circle think the time has come to give up on the Jerusalem job and concentrate on the municipal elections in the rest of the country, where Social Justice is running candidates in over 70 local authorities.

While some of Gaydamak's local activists raised doubts yesterday about continuing their activities, Haaretz has learned that Gaydamak is still making efforts to strengthen his position at the municipal level by providing both money and organization.