Municipal Elections Draw Scant Attention From Parties

Beside the voting station in the Hatikva neighborhood stood a girl of about 13, from a Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) background, handing out stickers supporting Tel Aviv mayoral candidate Dov Henin. The ringtone on her cellular telephone played the popular Hasidic tune, "We are believers and descendents of believers/ and rely on no one but our Father in Heaven." The girl sang an enthusiastic accompaniment to the jingle. What a sight: a religious girl, who probably grew up in a home that supports Shas, recruiting votes for the Communist, non-religious candidate, while singing Jewish soul music.

This epitomizes the 2008 municipal elections, with its lack of revolutions and with the complete detachment of the major national political parties from the municipal lists. It was every man for himself. Apart from Kadima, which could claim a quasi- victory (quasi, because most of the Kadima-oriented local authority heads ran with independent lists), no other party invested funds, energy or significant thought in these elections.

Everyone long-ago sobered from the bygone concept that a victory in the local elections can predict or influence the national arena. If there is any connection, it is tenuous and marginal. When Kadima was formed, close to 80 local authority heads switched allegiance from Likud or Labor. Many of these will likely return to the Likud before or after the Knesset elections. When the big day arrives, deep-pocketed Kadima may discover that the millions invested in the municipal elections actually financed the Likud's mayors.

For the major parties, local elections are mostly one big headache with endless arguments at the branches, bickering bigwigs and squandered money; and for what? Not much. Benjamin Netanyahu allocated minimal funds for his local representatives' campaigns, but future surveys will show that his national standing is completely unaffected. Benny Begin and Dan Meridor are worth 20 mayors.

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv attracted all the attention Monday, as the capital returned city hall to secular leadership and Dov Henin garnered one third of the popular vote in Israel's second largest city. This is a significant achievement for a new, unknown candidate, who entered the race a relatively short while ago. If Yossi Sarid had not withdrawn his candidacy early in the campaign, he would probably have beaten Huldai. The same goes for the Likud's Gideon Saar.

The local arena has been graced by fewer national figures in recent years. Army generals are no longer in a hurry to jump into these murky waters, as did former mayors Shlomo Lahat (Tel Aviv), Amram Mitzna (Haifa), Yaakov Terner (Be'er Sheva), Giora Lev (Petah Tikva) and Zvi Bar (Ramat Gan). Even prominent parliamentarians are not leaving the Knesset in favor of city council chambers, as did Mitzna, Ehud Olmert, Roni Milo, and Avigdor Kahalani.

What caused them all to shy away from municipal politics? Perhaps the criminal violence, the inhospitable local media, or the multiple investigations against mayors.

Who would want to climb into a sickbed and wallow in piles of garbage when in the Knesset, and even more so the cabinet, misery is so much more comfortable.