- Published: Monday, 03 November 2008 18:11
|On Saturday evening (1 Nov.), the four candidates for Mayor of Eilat came to speak at WIZO for non-speakers of Hebrew. Surprisingly in a city based primarily on tourism, only one candidate actually spoke in English, and that was ...[read more]|
On Saturday evening (1 Nov.), the four candidates for Mayor of Eilat came to speak at WIZO for non-speakers of Hebrew. Surprisingly in a city based primarily on tourism, only one candidate actually spoke in English, and that was Rafi Hochman. Yuni, the daughter of Faye Morris who was chairing the evening, translated for Meir Itzhak Halevi and Gabi Kadosh, and a Likud man for Robert Siboni.
It was interesting noting the difference in styles between the candidates. Rafi Hochman was the only one not dressed formally in a suit. Since Eilat is renowned for its casual dress code and suits are usually only for formal affairs, this is not in any way unusual or unsuitable, and to many would feel more comfortable or ‘genuine'. At the other end of the dress spectrum was Meir Itzhak Halevi in a formal suit and jacket, the lapels of which he pulled at now and again as though not quite comfortable. Which, between the warmth in the hall and the Eilati dress style that so rarely includes suits, he may well not have been.
Speaking styles differed as well. Kadosh spoke extremely loudly and forcefully, almost staccato, pounding out a sentence or two and then turning around to Yuni to await translation. Hochman spoke in a moderate voice that those out in the foyer may have needed to listen hard to hear, speaking directly to the audience informally and straight, like he was talking with friends rather than making a practiced political speech. He deserves full kudos for doing so in a language not his own, incurring an occasional lack of flow which would not have characterised public speaking in his native tongue. Siboni spoke in a moderate, measured voice, reminding me somewhat of a businessman giving a presentation in front of potential investors, facing the audience and waiting at careful intervals for his translator to translate. Itzhak Halevi, who was last, spoke loudly and fluently but, unlike the others, directed his words mostly to Yuni and not much to the audience except during questions.
The order of speakers had been drawn randomly at a previous WIZO meeting, with Gabi Kadosh the first speaker, followed by Rafi Hochman, then Robert Siboni, and lastly the incumbent, Meir Itzhak Halevi. Disappointingly, as the evening went on, audience members drifted away, unless perhaps those exiting had been there only for a specific candidate they were supporting rather than to hear all four speak.
Gabi Kadosh's speech dwelt a lot on what things where like when he took office and all the building of infrastructure and hotels he did during the ten years he was mayor, a period during which the population doubled and with the closing of other revenue sources, tourism increased. This included changing the old asbestos pipes to PVC, working toward a sewage treatment plant, and creating more jobs through creating more hotel rooms. Points he brought up included the promenade, saying that the contract and stalls are already in existence but never implemented, and he'll set order to the matter ‘when' he gets in. He believes the hospital should be made into a municipal corporation and all funds go straight into this corporation's account rather than through the health funds. He would like to see a nursing school in Eilat and more technology education. He says the branch of Ben Gurion University opened here thanks to his efforts and a huge Swiss investment. He wants to have a solar energy-run neighbourhood via another investor that would be off the grid and eventually supply the whole city, reducing electricity costs by 30%. He believes better marketing is needed for tourism to get Eilat into the European brochures. He wants a casino, saying it would be part of a congress centre complex and its shares owned by Eilatis so they won't gamble in it.
Rafi Hochman also served for mayor of Eilat for ten years (previous to Kadosh), being the youngest mayor in Israel when he was first elected. He reminded those who don't know that it was he who brought in the Free Trade Zone law, which at the time also included tax benefits for both employer and employee, which have been eroded in later years. He brought six industrial plants to Eilat, none of which remain today. Due to distance, climate, and neighbouring tourism development, Eilat needs to develop in more areas than tourism alone. Sinai has double the hotel rooms; Aqaba has a multi-million tourism development project underway, that Eilat must compete against. He believes there should be a congress and exhibition centre with exhibitions every two weeks of different companies' products, providing jobs plus accompanying-services-related jobs, operating on ‘OPM' - Other People's Money (i.e. the businesses doing the conventions and shows). Eilatis' incomes must be higher and services/purchases encouraged within the city to boost its economy. There must be jobs to bring the youth back here after the army. Re education, incentives are needed for teachers as well as smaller classes, and he brought in Levinsky teaching college for both teacher training and a source of aides for large classes. Teachers need continued education courses too. He believes the hospital should not become a Municipal and hence political entity, rather the government should support it as per its mandate. He wants to bring in senior doctors to improve level of medical service, advise or train. He feels there need to be facilities for the elderly, which Eilat presently lacks. He feels the airport must be moved, that 80% of accidents are on takeoff and landing and better to move the airport before than after. A train to Eilat, he said, will never happen because it is economically unfeasible for the government and there will always be other projects chosen instead; however, there is a chemical company might be build one if wishing to ship via Eilat Port. Hochman's running mates include teacher Yael Levi who just won a national award for her career achievements, attorney Limor Lahav, a medical doctor (Dr. Visnovich), saying that better an expert in each field because no one knows it all.
The third to speak was Robert Siboni, who is running for the first time and admits that he needs to learn more about Eilat and about running a city because his management has been military based. While I missed part of what he said thanks to one of his own aides, I gathered that his background is in the military and in building real estate projects. His flier says he was 22 years in the air force, vice-chairman of Neighbourhood Renewal, and initiator of "Pinui Binui' [see below] projects. He mentioned things like building a project with 1500 residential units for soldiers, being chairman of the Edom project in Ma'arav 7 Quarter, and having chaired an association for retired military people. He believes that between familiarity with field command and staff command, he has gained a broad perspective. Four years ago, with an investor, he renewed the old Malkit part of the Dekel Quarter by buying out the tenants, tearing down the buildings, and erecting new ones (‘Pinui Binui'). He believes that tourism requires a city that looks good. He sees a need to increase tourism, provide more jobs, and renew neighbourhoods, as well as bringing in hi tech and improving the education system. Re the latter he has educator Moshe Arokh on his list. To improve the hospital, he believes French plastic surgeons should be brought in, with the income subsidising other services, one assumes. He is in favour of a casino if it will be government supervised. Toward the end of his talk he insisted on projecting a small movie, but the footage and/or the machinery was poor and after several minutes of agony he gave it up as a lost cause.
The last speaker was the incumbent mayor, Meir Itzhak Halevi. He talked about how he pulled Eilat out of post-Intifada mess along with his deputy, Eli Lankri. Contrary to most politicians, he said, he has made up a long-term programme through 2030 that covers education, water, sewage, parking, health, tourism, and more. He wants to make Eilat ‘a city of excellence'. He talked of long-term patience, no ‘abacadabra and things just happen'. He would like to make this a university town with 3500 students. He believes that beauty, art, cleanliness, etc. are important to create respect amongst residents. He mentioned the Eilat-Eilot [ecological] project to make Eilat ‘green'. He talked of education, visiting kindergartens and talking with the children about things like litter, tolerance, or cleaning up after dogs because one should start young. He said he loves his work as mayor and loves children. He spoke of anti-violence and his intolerance of illegality, and how he cleared the squatters from Sun Bay, the illegal stall holders from the promenade, and hundreds of illegal signs around town. He half joked about the violent attacks on his home, saying that he must be doing something right if he's making certain elements angry. He then talked of his plans for the next 5 years. One was the Southern Gate, which would move the Port, navy port, and airport 10 km north of the city (by building a canal), that would start in 7-10 years. Next was a congress and sports centre covering 230 dunams. He wants to add hotel rooms, also bike and pedestrian paths, work on Highway 90, move the military barrier further north and make the stretch from there to Taba into a ‘great route'.
As the last speaker of the evening, and perhaps as the incumbent mayor, he was given more leeway to take questions. To a question about the Sudanese and a related one about foreign labour, he said that demographically the city cannot take in unlimited non-Israelis and that not all the Sudanese are refugees, some are just infiltrators - hence his not wanting to integrate them into the schools. He wants a set number of (genuine) refugees and a set number of foreign labourers and no more. Regarding cleanliness of the beaches, he said no measures employed have completely solved the problem, especially with the hordes of youth coming in summer. Regarding teachers, he also said that neither trade fairs nor tax breaks and other incentives have drawn enough teachers to Eilat. I would have liked to ask about the promenade, as both Hochman and Kadosh say that contracts, new stalls, and legal decisions were ready five years ago and the stalls have just been sitting in storage all that time and nothing implemented. Both say that within a month or two they would set the promenade issue in order, since all the necessary already exists. However, by this time it was late and Faye called the meeting to a close, thanking everyone for coming.