In a major upset, candidate Einat Kalisch Rotem roundly defeated the incumbent, three-term mayor of Haifa to become the first female mayor of the northern coastal city.
With more than half of the votes counted late Tuesday, Kalisch Rotem garnered some 56 percent of the city vote, unseating Yona Yahav — who only got 38% — after 15 years in office.
The result was very similar to that predicted by an exit poll, conducted on behalf of Radio Haifa and published immediately when voting ended, which had Kalisch Rotem clinching over 57% of the ballots to Yahav’s 35%.
The result marks the first time a woman has been elected at the helm of one of Israel’s three major cities — Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — in the 70 years since the state’s founding.
Both candidates had earlier in the day sniped at each other with claims of serious election meddling.
“They shut down my phone, I’m under a crazy cyber attack,” Yahav told the Walla news site. “They’re stealing our slips. If we don’t have slips in the ballots and Kalish does, it’s obviously intentional. It was a dirty election campaign and an even dirtier election day.”
Kalisch Rotem, meanwhile, had alleged that thousands of ballots with her name on it had gone missing.
The exit poll also predicted that Kalisch Rotem’s Hayim B’Haifa party and Yona Yahav and the Haifa Youth party receiving five seats apiece on the council.
Kalisch Rotem’s Haifa campaign had earlier this month seen some 11th-hour political drama after she was disqualified from running by the Interior Ministry and the Haifa District Court days before the race, only to later be reinstated by the High Court of Justice.
She had briefly been removed from the running after her Labor party lawyer submitted two candidates, including Kalisch Rotem, to the race, in violation of the election rules.
Another contender, David Etzioni, dropped out of the race in recent days and announced he was supporting Kalisch Rotem. She also received the backing of the Haredi Degel HaTorah faction and left-wing Meretz list.
A city council member since 2013, Kalisch Rotem previously ran for mayor of the city five years ago, when she received just 15% of the vote and three seats on the city council, according to her website.
An urban planner and architect by trade, Kalisch Rotem was convicted in March of building a three-story house in Zichron Yaakov without a building permit, according to The Marker business daily. She was fined NIS 30,000 for her involvement.