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Monday, August 19, 2013

On trial for corruption, Jerusalem's former mayor seeks old job

Former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski is poised to throw his hat into the Jerusalem mayoral race, a move that will likely reshape the contest.
According to information obtained by Israel Hayom, Lupolianski plans to announce his bid in September, after the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah).

Lupolianski's late entry will undoubtedly reshuffle the deck in what has so far been a two-way race between incumbent mayor Nir Barkat and his challenger, businessman Moshe Lion.

Lupolianski became mayor in early 2003, after serving as deputy mayor under Ehud Olmert (who later became prime minister). The city's first ultra-Orthodox mayor, Lupolianski was popular among vast swaths of the public.

His friendly demeanor prompted the media to refer to him as the "prettier face" of the haredim, because he managed to dispel many of the initial fears over having an ultra-Orthodox mayor run Israel's capital. He stepped down in 2008.
However, Lupolianski's reputation has been tarnished by his alleged involvement in one of Israel's largest scandals. He is accused of having abused his authority as deputy mayor in the 1990s by granting real-estate developers fast-track approval in the controversial Holyland Project, a massive housing complex in Jerusalem.

According to prosecutors, Lupolianski accepted some 2 million shekels ($560,000) in bribes from the developers and in turn made sure to cut red tape and have the municipality approve their construction plans with minor changes. According to the indictment, Lupolianski had the money funneled to the charity he had founded, Yad Sara, which helps people with special needs. Olmert and 11 other defendants are also on trial over alleged improprieties surrounding that project.

According to sources in Lupolianski's inner circle, the former mayor has all but decided that he would seek his old job.

"Up until a few months ago, he was saying that he had no plans to run, but now I think he will in fact run," one of his associates told Israel Hayom.
Lupolianski has apparently told his friends that his campaign would be launched only after he was done testifying in the Holyland trial.

"He could have declared his candidacy a long time ago, but Uri is a very honest and decent person," one of his close friends told Israel Hayom. "He will fulfill his duties towards the court and the justice system, but only once that is over will he take such a drastic step."
Lupolianski's move may hurt Lion's shot at the mayorship. Lion is backed by Shas Chairman MK Aryeh Deri and Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Lieberman, who have persuaded him to run for mayor and who have promised him that they will deliver the haredi vote.

According to his associates, Lupolianski is unfazed by Lion's claim of having secured the haredim's support.
"The promises that were made to Lion are of no interest to him. He does not need to worry about how, and to what extent, Lion has debased himself and he does not fear his candidacy," one associate said. "If there is a haredi candidate on the ballot, the haredim will park their support with that person, and Lion knows that too."

Lupolianski's people say he has a fair shot.

"There are more than 90,000 haredi votes up for grabs. To win the election you need a total of 120,000 votes," said another associate. "In addition, the national-religious camp has approached him [Lupolianski] countless times, because it knows that he would help their cause and may in fact be the only mayor who could appoint a national-religious rabbi as chief rabbi of the city.

There are also many secular people who are cognizant of his volunteer work and his biography. These people are fond of him and would vote for him."
Lupolianski declined to comment for this article.

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