It’s been 10 years since Mr. Ron Huldai was elected mayor of Tel Aviv – Israel’s second largest city, and the center of its economic and cultural life. It is a political position with a great public impact: It is a well known joke that thereâ€™s a stage in the life of every young secular Israeli, in which he (or she) finds himself moving to Tel Aviv, looking to absorb the urban lifestyle and to experience the “fast lane” of this Mediterranean metropolis; not to mention the scores of immigrants and the large Arab population of Jaffa — all of these under the administrative control of Mr. Huldai.
Later this year the people of Tel-Aviv will go to the polls to pick a new mayor. After two terms Mr. Huldai has spent in city hall, there are many who feel it is time for a change. Yet others adore the changes he brought to this dynamic city, sometimes pushing his projects through like a stubborn bulldozer despite the residentsâ€™ objections.
Ron Huldai was born in 1944, and spent twenty-six years in military service. He served as a fighter pilot, and later as the base commander of Nevatim Airbase in the Negev desert. He was chosen mayor in 1998 and very soon began a massive operation of infrastructure renovation across the city, as well as approving many new projects, that eventually completely changed the city skyline.
Among the many projects undertaken during his time in the mayorâ€™s office, few are especially worth mentioning: The redecorating of many downtown venues, such as Rotchild Boulevard and Jerusalem Boulevard; the area of the old northern wharf had been turned into a stylish compound of designer warehouses, night clubs, and posh restaurants — preventing access to the sandy beach in this section of the shore line. A nearby park, the Yarkon River walkway, gradually regained a European look, with wooden decks and bicycle pavements.
Critics accused Mr. Huldai of not being sentimental, of turning Tel-Aviv into a pretty place with no soul. He himself was caught comparing the city to the military bases he had used to command, inspiring protesters who called out â€œWeâ€™re residents, not soldiersâ€. Another major complain directed toward him is the endless construction of newer and taller skyscrapers, all aimed at luring high-paying flat buyers.
Perhaps the greatest controversy involves the demolition of â€œUssishkinâ€ Basketball Hall — the aging home of the red team: â€œHapoel Tel-Avivâ€. It was a move accompanied by a loud public outcry; still, Mr. Huldai went ahead and approved the destruction of the building in 2006. Basketball fans were outraged, and the story culminated in the desecration of Huldaiâ€™s parentsâ€™ graves.
Personally I think that functionality, comfort and nostalgia donâ€™t necessarily contradict each other. I find myself enjoying the new feel and look of the city much more than I used in the past. In any case, I am certain this debate is sure to continue and even to heat up as weâ€™re approaching the municipal elections.