J'lem Mayoral Race Could Go Down to the Wire

Though it remains uncertain which candidate will triumph in the Jerusalem mayoral race, one thing is becoming apparent: It's going to be a close call.

No candidate could say with certainty that he had secured enough support. The front-runners are Nir Barkat, a secular businessman who has positioned himself as a rightist, and Meir Porush, an ultra-Orthodox Knesset member who has launched an active campaign targeting secular residents and modern-Orthodox voters.

Barkat was leading in most polls, but Porush was able to narrow the gap well below the former double-digit difference. Analysts expect today's vote to be determined by the ratio between secular and ultra-Orthodox voters.

If past experience is anything to go by, secular and modern-Orthodox voters will be outnumbered at the ballot boxes throughout the city. The ultra-Orthodox public, by contrast, is expected to come out in droves, as instructed by leading rabbis.

Another important bloc, the Arab residents in the east of the city who make up one-third of the capital's population, have in the past boycotted the elections for city council and mayor, and are expected to do the same this time.

Despite this, businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, who is also running for mayor, has made the Arab residents of East Jerusalem a key focus over the past few weeks, trying to persuade enough of them to come out.

"Jerusalemites are assuming responsibility," Barkat said yesterday during a campaign tour at Pisgat Ze'ev. "They understand that what is at stake is the fate of this city." Asked whether his support for the construction of Jewish neighborhoods near Anata in East Jerusalem harmed his chances in the race, Barkat said he could not say. His decision to support the construction caused controversy because it is meant to form a contiguous Jewish-populated buffer reaching Ma'aleh Adumim.