Former religious affairs chief to run for mayor of Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — Former religious affairs minister Shimon Shetreet has announced he will run against incumbent Ehud Olmert in November's election for mayor of Jerusalem.

"I have to admit this is a great challenge," Shetreet said Saturday night. "Surveys that have been done suggest that it will be very difficult, but I am optimistic. I think that if we mobilize all the sectors of the community in Jerusalem — secular, traditional, and religious together, who are keen on a harmonious combination of democracy and tradition — if we can do that, then I think we can bring the desired change."

Shetreet, who announced his candidacy on TV Friday of last week, said he is running as a candidate of One Jerusalem, which he defined as a "general public movement." It was also the fusion party of former mayor Teddy Kollek, who endorsed Shetreet.

"The endorsement of Teddy Kollek is the best I could ever expect from anyone with regard to my candidacy," Shetreet said.

But he will face a similar challenge that Kollek faced in 1993, with no stronger guarantee of success: trying to win over the ultra-religious vote, which is presently lined up solidly behind Olmert.

"Negotiations and contacts will take place and have taken place with various sections of the community in Jerusalem," Shetreet said, "and I don't exclude contacts with the haredim. But I am realistic: They have in the past four years been in the best position ever in the history of Jerusalem. My best hope of being able to change the present situation is by joining forces with those committed to democracy and respectful of tradition."

A senior Likud source said Shetreet would be a weak candidate, as "they didn't vote for him as a [Labor] MK, so why should they vote for him as mayor. Second, the haredim don't like him at all, because as minister of religious affairs he opposed them on a lot of issues."

Shetreet said that he is not yet a candidate representing the Labor Party, but that he feels the party favors his candidacy, including party head Ehud Barak.

"His reaction was generally positive," Shetreet said, "but there is a certain process that the party has to go through."

Olmert's spokesman Haggai Elias declined to comment on Shetreet's candidacy.

Shetreet said that his primary objectives as mayor will be strengthening economic development, maintaining the delicate balance among the various communities in the city, and "giving special attention to the interreligious relationship in this holy city."