Yesh Atid strategist snags ‘Oscar of political consulting’

American-Jewish pollster Mark Mellman helped greenhorn party become Knesset’s second-largest faction

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Mark Mellman. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Mark Mellman. (Screen capture/YouTube)

After guiding the freshman Yesh Atid party to 19 Knesset seats in January, an American-Jewish political consultant won the industry’s top award Friday.

At a ceremony Friday in Washington, DC, the Mellman Group, headed by Mark Mellman, won the American Association of Political Consultants’ award for “Best International Campaign.” Mellman helped Yesh Atid, headed by former journalist Yair Lapid, become the second-largest faction in its first time running.

The so-called Pollie Award, since 1999 given out annually by the AAPC — the world’s largest organization of political consultants, pollsters, public affairs professionals and communications professionals — is considered the Oscar of political consulting.

The group also honored Arthur Finkelstein, the US-Jewish pollster who worked on the campaign of Likud-Yisrael Beytenu, which was generally seen as a failure.

The Washington-based Mellman Group also won this year’s Pollster of the Year award for its work in the US. Mellman, who is Modern Orthodox, was not present at the Friday night award ceremony.

Rather, a staff member represented the company.

“A year ago Yair congratulated me for winning this same award for a campaign in Albania. I thanked him and added that I hoped to win again this year for his campaign. So it is enormously gratifying for our firm to be recognized by our peers for this historic effort, Mellman said Sunday. “But the award should really be bestowed on the whole team — Yair, all those on the list, Hillel Korbinsky, Nili Richman and so many others including the grass roots volunteers who made it all possible.”

In an interview with The Times of Israel earlier this year, Mellman credited Yesh Atid’s stellar debut performance — from zero seats to 19 — to Lapid’s popularity and the hard work he and the candidates put in for months before election day. “Everything starts and ends with the candidate,” Mellman said. “The consultant’s role is to provide a little experience and a little guidance and to make sure that we remain focused. But it all starts and ends with what the candidate — or in this case, the candidates — want to be saying.”

The 2013 Knesset race was a highlight of his illustrious career, he added. “I think it is historic,” he said.

Last year, Mellman, who has worked with dozens of US congressmen, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as politicians in Europe and Latin America, also took the award for best international campaign. He was honored for helping an Albanian politician unseat the mayor of the capital, Tirana.

In the past, Mellman has twice been named Pollster of the Year.

Finkelstein, the New York-based strategist who advised the Yisrael-Beytenu slate and was reportedly behind the idea to have the two parties run on a joint ticket, was inducted to the AAPC’s Hall of Fame. A veteran Conservative political consultant, Finkelstein had reportedly predicted the two parties together win would at least 42 seats — the number they had between them in the last Knesset — but they wound up with a disappointing 31.

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