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A conversation with Dan Birron, mayoral candidateby josh • November 09 2008
Interview, City planning, Environment, Municipal news
At 68, musician, TV producer and pub owner Dan Birron is the unlikely face of a political party that once espoused legalizing marijuana as the cornerstone of its platform. Then again, given his long, scraggly hair and chilled out personality, maybe he is the perfect face. Born in Jerusalem when it was still part of Palestine, Birron was recently recruited to be Aleh Yarok's - or, the Green Leaf Party's - main man in Jerusalem. As a third- or fourth-party candidate for mayor, Birron has taken a Ralph Nader-like backseat in the race (to Arkady Gadyamak's Ross Perot). he's not just running on legalizing it, though. With a platform that addresses issues like clean streets, 24/7 public transportation and more funding for the arts, Birron is hoping to at least secure a seat on the city council, and maybe even steal the whole damn thing.
What about Jerusalem culturally makes it ripe for a Green Leaf administration? This is a maybe the first thing, the first item, in our platform. Do you know that the Jerusalem budget for supporting cultural activities is about 8 million NIS a year? In Tel Aviv it's 115 million, in Haifa it's about 80, 84 million. In Rishon Letzion, the orchestra gets more money than all the activities in Jerusalem. We think it's not luxury. It’s a basic need of every human being. And what can I do, when the municipality ignores it? So the first thing to do, maybe, because this is my field - I am a TV director - would be to take care of this.
Please paint a picture for us of Jerusalem with you as her mayor. What kinds of green spaces would you create? How would you balance that with the city's needs for construction development? I have a vision. I cannot say how far I can go, but I wouldn't allow the building of skyscrapers in town - in the center of town. If they want to do that, then please do it in the periphery. But the city of Jerusalem should be preserved. This is an old city and this our tradition and this is the face of our city. During these five last years the city became so dirty, they clean maybe the main streets, but look at the yards of the houses. There should be a fine on everybody who doesn't clean his own yard. Jerusalem should be clean. It should be light and not dark.
If you were in office, how would you improve the city's cultural, nightlife, entertainment and performing arts landscapes? This is my field. I was a TV producer and director and was acting in Jerusalem for many years. But you have to do everything in spite of the municipality. Not only do they not support you, but they are trying to push you away. I think you have to encourage every group and every individual that is involved with being creative. There are so many, but they don't get support, and they must leave and seek other places where they can act and they can put on a show. In Jerusalem there is barely one orchestra, which is fighting for funding. One and a half theaters. Not enough galleries, libraries, not enough activities of arts and entertainment. And the youngsters have to go to Tel Aviv or the beach to see big shows. They don't want it in Jerusalem for many reasons. But the main reason is that nobody gives a damn about the luxury. It's not a luxury, it’s a basic need. It excites me because there is so much - so many talents. They let all the brains leave.
In Israel, there are hundreds of thousands of people who use, who become criminals, but they are good citizens. Maybe you don't like them to do it in public, but don't go in the houses. But Jerusalem may be the most important capital in the world, and I want to see it like Paris, London, Rome and not a place like Bnei Brak. You know the eyes of hundreds of thousands of believers are directed towards Jerusalem. It could be a huge crane to put forward Jerusalem. It should be a city that lights its places.
Photo of the Green Leaf 2008 dream team (top, with Birron in the middle) courtesy of the Green Leaf Party; photo of a pensive Birron at the recent Great Synagogue mayoral debate courtesy of Ariel Jerozolimski; photo of Birron-themed street propaganda juxtaposed with defaced Porush-themed street propaganda by Harry Rubenstein for Jerusalemite.
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