A week after Obama gets elected next month we have municipal elections in Israel. In Jerusalem there are three candidates of interest, along with various irrelevancies no-one's ever heard of (such as the candidate of Likud. Kadima and Labor apparently aren't even running anyone). The three, in alphabetical order, are Nir Barkat, Arkadi Gaydamak, and Meir Porush. Barkat is a very wealthy hi-tech intreprenuer who can afford never to work again and still his great-grandchildren will be covered. Since he doesn't have to make money he wishes to make the world better, and he's been concentrating on Jerusalem for about ten years. Last time (municipal elections come around once every 5 years) he came in second, with 44% of the vote, which was pretty good seeing as almost no-one had ever heard of him. He has spent the ensuing 5 years as the head of the municipal opposition, thus convincing many people that he really means it, and apparently he has a reasonable chance of winning this time. He's about 50, by the way, maybe a bit less.
Gaydamek is a mystery. He's Russian. No-one knows when he got here - probably sometime in the early 1990s. He's super rich, probably far more than Barkat, but no-one knows how he made his money. Something to do with the demise of Communism, perhaps. Or weapon running. Or both. Or neither. Apparently he has a 30-something son who owns an English football club (Chelsea?). The Israeli police have been muttering about his being a crook ever since he first appeared, but they have yet to indict him for anything. He's been on the scene with great intensity for five years or so. He's famous for throwing large sums of money at problems the politicians can't deal with, especially if there are cameras around. Most famously, he's the fellow who in July 2006 set up a five-star camp of air conditioned tents in the south, and hosted thousands of refugees from the Gallillee while Olmert&Co. ineptly didn't manage to destroy Hezbollah. That alone made him one of the most popular people around, except with the socialists who believe that solutions must be paid for, always, by the goverment. For those folks Gaydamek is the epitomy of all evil, a fact which probably does him no electoral damage.
No one knows why he wants to be mayor of Jerusalem. Knesset members enjoy legal immunity until they don't (ask Olmert), but mayors don't even have that. No-one has any idea if he knows anything about running a city the size of Wassila, and Jerusalem, believe me, is more complicated than Wassila. Probably more complicated than all of Alaska. Actually, almost no-one knows anythng about Arkady, especially since the only language he speaks, apparently, is Russian. (He communicates with Israeli non-Russian journalists in pidgin-English). So his handlers have invented a very simple message for him: they've plastered his face all over the city with the slogan: "Arkady Gaydamek. He doesn't talk, he does". And some wags have altered some of the signs to say "Arkady Gaydamek. He doesn't talk Hebrew".
I think (and hope) he doesn't stand a chance.
Meir Porush is the scion of a well-known family of Haredi politicians who happen also to be rather wealthy. His father was in the Knesset for many years; Meir replaced him quite a while ago. People tell me it's possible to be a US senator of the first rank for decades and still have only limited name recognition in most of the US. Well, it must be a big place, what can I say, or perhaps people don't pay attention. In Israel it is impossible to be an active Knesset member for a term or two without everybody knowing all about you (or thinking they do), so Porush has name recognition most American politicians would kill for. Alas: everyone knows he's Haredi, a fanatic, with a great big white beard, black overcoat, 11 children or more, and no-one except his own kind would vote for him.
So why is he running? Two reasons. First, his own kind constitute some 30+% of the Jerusalem electorate, and they vote early and often. Second, the other 70% don't vote hardly at all (the Arabs), or only in a lazy sort of way (all the rest). So all Porush has to do is convince a few non-Haredi folks to vote for him, and to reinforce the rest in their reluctance to drag themselves to the polls (usually about two blocks away), and he's in. That's how his predecessor, Haredi Uri Lupoliansky, won in 2003. Except that Porush is recognized, unlike Lupo, as being full-fledged Haredi. Lupo was sort of Haredi-light.
Purush's handlers have dealt with this handicap in a very cute way: unlike any politician you've ever heard of, they're not showing his face. Instead, they're smothering the city with a cute little cartoon figure with a benign smile and twinkling eyes, and the slogan "Jerusalem will like Porush". If you visit his website, here, you can see what I mean. The website also has his real picture, but websites aren't very important in Israeli politics. Everyone uses the Internet, but not for politics (nor for blogging). All those secular looking people on his homepage are exactly what you'd think: secular folks saying Meir's a great fellow. Not a single Haredi face there, notice. Heh.
Ah. In the name of even handedness, here's Barkat's website (the English part). I don't think Arkady has a website (Google doesn't either). So here's something else, instead.