The essential Eitan Ginzburg
An interview with Ra’anana’s current acting mayor – who happens to be gay – about his desire to do another term and ‘Make Ahuza Street great again’
Eitan Ginzburg is a politician with an impressive past and a promising future. After 15 years on the city council of Ra’anana – a city comprised of over 20% olim from English-speaking countries – he became acting mayor when longtime mayor Ze’ev Bielski departed to lead the National Housing Authority. With Bielski’s endorsement, Ginzburg is now running for mayor in his own right. His picture adorns flyers, posters and banners from one end of Ra’anana to the other, and he is constantly campaigning.
Ginzburg, 41, was born and raised in Ra’anana and went through the city’s public schools. Educated as a lawyer, with a bachelor’s degree in law and government and an MA in public policy, he also completed the prestigious Leadership Program of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. He has served as Ra’anana’s deputy mayor, chairman of the city’s water corporation and head of its engineering department. He is also a reserve major in the IDF.
Eitan Ginzburg is also gay. He has lived with a samesex partner for 15 years, and with the assistance of a surrogate mother in the US, they have one-year-old twins. All of this is something one doesn’t see in Israeli politics every day, and Ginzburg is the first and only self-declared gay mayor in Israel.
The Jerusalem Post Magazine sat down recently with Ginzburg and asked him a few questions.
As you have no doubt already discovered, the job you now have and are trying to keep is not easy. Why do you want to be mayor?
Wow! This is the first time anyone has ever asked me this. It’s a very good question.
I grew up here in Ra’anana. When all of my friends left to do different things, I stayed because I really love this city – and I love public service. I find it much more interesting than the private sector. I believe in politics, because I think it’s the best way to have influence. I love this city and I love serving it. I have a lot of plans that I want to offer Ra’anana, but at the same time, we are living in a very good city with a high quality of life, and I want to keep it that way. Keep what we want to keep, and change what needs to be changed. Being mayor is the best way to do this.
A big bunch of people are running for this job. Why should you be mayor and not one of them?
I’m the youngest candidate. In spite of that, I think I understand what needs to be kept and what needs to be changed to bring this city to the next level. I am also the most experienced. You know, 30 years ago, a young man was elected mayor here. He was Ze’ev Bielski, and he was 39 years old – more or less my age. He changed this place from a small town that few people even knew about to a modern place with a very high standard of living. After 15 years in city government, I think I know what changes need to be made, and how to do it.
What kind of changes to you want to make?
Do you want some “Donald Trump”? I think we need to make Ahuza Street great again. It was once the heart of the city, the center of the city, a place where people used to meet. When I was a kid, we all used to “go out” to Ahuza, to shop and for recreation. Today it’s not the same. We need more culture there, more activities, and to renew it physically – of course with more parking spaces.
We understand some of the older residents – some born here and others who came here to live in a small town – when they say they don’t want too much development. But this is a city, now with a population of 88,000 people. We’re one of the 15 biggest cities in Israel. We need to develop. I don’t want to make Ra’anana like Petah Tikva or Hod Hasharon. I don’t want a lot of very tall buildings. We want to keep the community feeling that we have now. We love Ra’anana, we want to develop it, but we want to keep the things that make it special.
Where are you positioned on the map of Israeli politics – left, right or center?
I am a member of the Labor Party, but that has nothing to do with local politics. Here in Ra’anana I’m running as an independent. I have my own local party here, called Lev, or Heart, and it’s composed of people who care about Ra’anana.
You are the only self-proclaimed gay mayor in all of Israel. Has this helped or hindered you in any way?
The people of Ra’anana don’t care about it. First of all, I was elected acting mayor by the city council with a big majority of the vote. Support for me ranged from Meretz all the way to Bayit Yehudi. I got support from all over, because they knew I had the most experience and the most knowledge of how to do things. I was elected not because or in spite of being gay. It was about being the most professional and experienced.
Has being gay made you a better public official in any way?
We’re talking a lot in this campaign about community, about diversity and different lifestyles, different beliefs. What I understand more than ever is that you need to be more tolerant of other people. We can all live in the same place, happily in the same very good city. My way of life has nothing to do with my plans, my vision for this city, my professional qualifications, and my love for Ra’anana. I’m living my life, with my family, and doing my job like everyone else.
Do you want to be mayor of Ra’anana for the rest of your life, or do you have some other long-term plans?
Listen, I am living the dream! I am the current mayor, and I want to be the next mayor. I don’t have any other dream right now.
Final question: Everyone has a ‘secret self,’ where he or she lives a fantasy life. What do you do in your fantasy life?
I am living my fantasy life, at least what my fantasy life has been as an adult. When I was a small child, I wanted to be a magician. But what I’m doing now is what I have dreamed of doing for a long time. I’ve always been attracted to public service, but I have had the fantasy of being a singer. I love music very much, and I used to sing. But life takes us in other directions. So my fantasy today is to be mayor of Ra’anana.
‘WHEN ALL of my friends left [Ra’anana] to do different things, I stayed because I really love this city – and I love public service.’