Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai secured a fifth term leading the country’s economic hub, fending off an 11th-hour surge from upstart deputy-turned-rival Asaf Zamir.
With 58 percent of the votes counted overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, Huldai held a 45% to 35% lead over Zamir, who had appeared to nearly pull even with the incumbent in polling over recent weeks.
Zamir conceded defeat early Wednesday in a speech to supporters, saying he was “proud of the clean campaign” and vowed to continue working to influence policy in the city.
The popular Huldai, 74, has been mayor since 1998 and has never faced a serious challenge to his rule. Under law, he will have to step down after the next term ends in 2023.
Founder and chairman of the Tel Aviv party Ha’Ir, Zamir had risen from near obscurity in recent months since he announced his unlikely mayoral bid, and seemed poise to at least force Huldai into a runoff.
Under Israeli law, one mayoral candidate must receive at least 40% of the vote, otherwise a runoff is held with the two candidates who receive the highest percentage of the votes.
Comedian Assaf Harel (13%) and Shas deputy mayor Natan Elnatan (7%) both trailed far behind.
Zamir, 38, had been accused of “crony capitalism” due to his marriage to actress Maya Wertheimer, and his connection to her grandfather, Stef Wertheimer, a billionaire who founded tool fabrication companies and a number of industrial parks, and personally bankrolled part of the mayoral campaign.
Huldai, 74, won the past four mayoral campaigns by a large margin, receiving between 51% and 62% of the votes. The biggest previous challenge to Huldai’s mayoral position came in 2008, when MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) ran on a platform focused on social and environmental issues, and managed to capture 34% of the votes. Huldai took 51% of the votes.
Huldai was born in 1944 on Kibbutz Hulda in central Israel, which gave the family its name. He had a long career in the army and was principal of the prestigious Herzliya Gymnasium high school in Tel Aviv for six years, before becoming mayor in 1998.
As mayor, he has tackled major infrastructure projects such as a total renovation of the beach-side promenade and attracted high-tech companies to the city. However, many residents are dismayed by the skyrocketing cost of living and impossible real estate prices.
Huldai, a Labor party stalwart, held strong support with the minority of older Tel Aviv residents and also managed to maintain backing from many younger voters.
On many of the issues, Zamir and Huldai share the same ideology. Both want to lower housing prices, improve public transportation and make Israel’s most expensive city a bit more livable.
Netanya mayor under suspicion wins again
In Netanya, longtime mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar secured a fifth term despite possible graft charges hanging over her head. Feirberg-Ikar, who got 50% of the votes, handily defeated a number of challengers by a wide margin, including former MK Yoni Chetboun (28%).
Feirberg-Ikar — who in 2013 ran away with a whopping 72% of the vote — is at the heart of a corruption investigation dating back to 2016, and prosecutors have yet to decide whether to indict her or drop the charges.
Hebrew media reports have suggested there were evidentiary disparities in the case, which is centered on alleged fraud and breach of trust over benefits to real estate developers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who backed Feirberg-Ikar, congratulated her early Wednesday, saying he was not surprised by the results.
Ungrateful, after all these years
After 30 years at the helm of Nahariya, Mayor Jacky Sabag was walloped by challenger Ronen Marley, managing only some 23% of the vote to Marley’s 62%.
Fuming at the results, Sabag told supporters, “Unfortunately, after 30 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Nahariya residents are ungrateful.”
Sabag, 74, is also no stranger to legal trouble. In 2004, he was convicted of dumping raw sewage into the Mediterranean and ordered to pay a NIS 8,000 fine.
The three-time mayor found himself again under the police eye with a July 2018 interrogation on suspicion of breach of trust, in a probe Hebrew reports said dated back to 2013 and remains open.