A helpful to-do list for the incoming new head of Jerusalem

By Robert Sarner, Detroit Jewish News, May 6, 2003

JERUSALEM - Early next month, residents of Jerusalem will elect the city's new mayor. According to the latest polls, millionaire businessman Nir Barkat, a 43-year-old political unknown and electoral virgin, is the front-runner. But he now faces a new challenge due to recent developments in connection with Jerusalem's large ultra-Orthodox community.

In late April, ending weeks of speculation after initially saying he would not run in the election, the city's acting mayor, Uri Lupolianski, announced his candidacy. An ultra-Orthodox 51-year-old father of 12, Lupolianski threw his hat into the ring saying he had finally received his rabbi's blessing. Given the presence now of an ultra-Orthodox candidate who will likely receive virtually all the votes of his community, Barkat's lead in the polls may not hold on election day.

Traditionally, at the rabbis' urging, Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox residents vote in a far greater proportion than non-religious Jerusalemites whose apathy has previously hurt candidates who don't have the ultra-Orthodox support.

The Jerusalem election is taking place in early June because Ehud Olmert, who was mayor since 1993, stepped down in February after he was elected to the Knesset and became a minister in the Sharon government.

A Jerusalem mayor faces challenges unlike anywhere else if for no other reason that

for billions of Jews, Christians and Moslems around the world, Jerusalem is sacred. It exists powerfully in their religious beliefs, spiritual imagination and conflicting claims on the Holy City. For these people, Jerusalem's ancient history is vital stuff.

For the city's residents, the past is all well and good but it's the here and now they want the mayor to wrestle with. Given the complexity of Jerusalem, the new mayor will need all the help he can get. To that end, I've prepared the following "To Do" list to keep the mayor on track.

True, it's also a bit of a personal wish list, but one with the better interests of the capital in mind. These 35 suggestions are just for starters. There are lots more where they came from.

  • Downtown down for the count? - Bring the city center back to life. It desperately needs animation, commerce and a sense of style. Only major innovation will do the trick.

  • Heavy breathing - Time to tackle Jerusalem's sadly overlooked scourge of air pollution. And, while you're at it, why not attack the noise pollution, too?

  • Urban refuge - Parks don't add to the city coffers but they sure make life better. Jerusalem is sorely lacking in green places for solace from traffic, concrete and stone.

  • The other side of town - Providing decent services (including building permits) and the long-neglected infrastructure of Arab neighborhoods won't turn its residents into Zionists but will help ease tensions in the city.

  • Open for business - A no-brainer. Without attracting investment, stimulating the local economy and creating jobs, the city is doomed.

  • Oasis in the urban desert - A land-locked metropolis needs the soothing effect that only water can bring. Fountains are the perfect solution, the bigger the better to make them also attractive landmarks and meeting places.

  • Taking to the streets - Build on a proven precedent as reflected in the appeal of the Ben Yehuda, Yoel Solomon and Yemin Moshe pedestrian areas. Convert more streets for the exclusive use of people just on two feet.

  • Down and dirty - The city seems a perpetual mess, and that's when the garbage collectors aren't on strike. Beef up the sanitation services and start issuing fines to the growing number of dog owners who don't clean up after their pets.

  • Room to move - Create more public squares for major events and to help break up the density of the city.

  • Tales of Talpiot - This semi-industrial quarter is a terrible eyesore, and a fairly dysfunctional one at that. A serious re-think and major overhaul are in order.

  • No parking - Underground multi-level parking garages are needed urgently throughout the city (including next to Teddy Stadium).

  • Ouch! - Outrageously high local taxes (arnona) are making living in Jerusalem increasingly prohibitive, contributing to the hemorrhaging of young residents.

  • Learning the hard way - The education facilities and class-sizes in local schools (especially the secular ones) are scandalously appalling.

  • Sleeze alert - A super clean-up of the widespread corruption and waste at City Hall is long overdue. No need to say more.

  • Color our city - Beautify the urban landscape with public art, murals, posters, sculptures, etc. and in the process support local artists.

  • Pull out the stops - Apply heave pressure on the government and Knesset to finally make a high-speed train connection with Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport a national priority.

  • Friendly wheels - For reasons of both of recreation and the environment, encourage city cyclists with a network of bike paths and special lanes reserved for bicycles.

  • The call of the Zamboni - If Metulla can host one, why can't Jerusalem have its own ice skating/hockey rink? Okay, I admit my personal preference is showing here.

  • Fare play - To reduce the number of cars in Jerusalem, cancel bus fares. The dividends from less traffic will far outweigh the costs.

  • Off the chest - Israelis are nothing if not opinionated. A Speaker's Corner modeled on the one in London, would be perfect for people to air their views and let off steam in a downtown park.

  • The Jerusalem Forest - Save what's left of it.

  • Feet first - Return the sidewalks to what they were intended for, namely pedestrians instead of parked cars.

  • Making a splash - The city's precious few swimming pools all are guilty of shameless price gouging. If we can't have a beach, at least build affordable alternatives.

  • Get out there and mix - As mayor, make contact with the people, get to know the city and its residents well. Be a mentsh, a character that inspires.

  • Lighten up - Let your imagination run wild. Introduce a sense of fun, humor and playfulness to life in the city that takes itself far too seriously.

A tall order? Yes, but nothing that good creative thinking, effective lobbying, fund-raising, political coercion and hard work can't solve. No one said governing Jerusalem was going to be a cakewalk. Getting elected is the easy part. Proving you deserved the job is much tougher.

Wishing you lots of success in your new role. For further input, feel free to contact me.

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