Forty-three out of 44 Likud members running for mayoral posts across the country on October 22 have received letters of support from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The exception is Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion, Channel 2 reported Saturday.

During an interview with the news channel which aired Saturday night, Lion, who is backed by the Likud Beytenu and Shas, faced tough questions about the lack of a public endorsement from the prime minister.

Lion responded by asserting that no candidate could run for mayor on behalf of the Likud without the support of Netanyahu. “I represent Likud-Beytenu. There is no chance that someone can run on the party list without the prime minister’s support and blessing,” said Lion.

“I am certain the prime minister will support me and will do so publicly,” he went on. “I am [also] sure who he will vote for. It won’t be anyone else [but me].”

Lion is up against the popular incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat, an independent who, according to polls, is likely to win again. A Ma’ariv poll on Friday gave Barkat 43% to Lion 14%. Still, Lion’s entry into the race, and his endorsement from several key ultra-Orthodox rabbis, has made the race somewhat more suspenseful and a great deal more bitter than had been anticipated.

Lion criticized Barkat during the interview, saying that the mayor had good intentions but has failed the city.

“Jerusalem over the past five years has deteriorated. 90,000 people left the city, the quality of education has gone down,” he charged, promising to act to reverse the trend of young people emigrating.

He also said that the situation in East Jerusalem must be improved and greater investment must be made in infrastructure and education there. “We must care for East Jerusalem as well as West Jerusalem.”

“I have wide support in Jerusalem, I speak to its people, who are from all walks of life and all backgrounds: supporters of Likud, Ethiopians, haredim, Arabs. I want dialogue between the people… I have the skills to run Jerusalem,” said Lion.

Barkat countered that “every Jerusalemite, and every citizen of Israel, knows that something good has been happening to the city.”

“The prime minister, his wife, his children, are Jerusalemites. They see the positive changes. This city is developing,” said Barkat.

Asked about Netanyahu’s decision not to endorse either candidate thus far, Barkat responded that he’s sure the prime minister supports him but he “understands the pressure he’s under.”

Barkat charged that he knows that Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, who is backing Lion, has “threatened all kinds of things” so as to prevent the PM from supporting Barkat overtly.

“[Shas leader] Aryeh Deri and Liberman want to control the mayor — that’s why they are backing Lion. They are doing so in order to benefit later.”

“I won the last elections without haredi votes,” said Barkat, “and I still called [all rival parties] to join the municipal coalition because it was the right thing to do.”

In a written response to Channel 2, Liberman charged that there was a “racist element” in Barkat’s behavior.

“For five years, Barkat sat in the coalition with Yisrael Beytenu and Shas as the representatives from both parties served as his deputies, and that was fine,” Liberman said. “Therefore, it’s clear from his statements today that the man is racist and condescending. And, for him, the role of anyone with a Sephardi or Soviet background is to serve him. As long as they obey him, they’re okay, but if they oppose him or express an independent stance, then they’re criminals unworthy of democratic values.”