March 29th, 2007 04:30 EST
U.S. Town Elects a Mayor Born in Iran
In a close race that saw the top four finishers separated by only 3 percentage points, Jimmy Delshad won re-election to the Beverly Hills City Council on March 6. By local tradition, as the longest-serving member of the City Council, Delshad was chosen mayor by the other four council members. The formal selection took place March 27, the day election results were certified as official.
Delshad mounted an electoral campaign to make Beverly Hills “the smartest and safest city in the United States” by providing wireless Internet access, installing traffic lights that adjust to changing traffic flows and increasing security measures.
Born 66 years ago in Shiraz, Iran, Delshad also promised “to serve as a bridge” between the city’s majority communities and its large Iranian-American population, which makes up roughly a quarter of the 33,000 residents of this Los Angeles suburb. Reflecting the American challenge of balancing respect for ethnic identity with inclusion, Delshad proudly ran on his Iranian heritage while emphasizing his community’s desire to be part of the larger American social fabric.
Delshad noted that residents in Beverly Hills had been good to Iranian ex-patriots. “They have opened their arms to us and taken us in,” Delshad told USINFO in a telephone interview. He added that Iranian-Americans want “to show we are here and want to be good citizens of America and contribute to its welfare.”
The road from Shiraz to Beverly Hills has been a long and successful one for Jimmy Delshad, who came to the United States in 1958 at 18 years of age. After earning a university degree in 1965, he entered the fledgling business of computer technology, forming his own successful company a few years later. A longtime resident of the Los Angeles area, Delshad moved to Beverly Hills in 1989 and was elected councilman four years ago. (See related article.)
Speaking of his years of public service, Delshad, who also served as president of his synagogue, said, “These things could not have happened to me somewhere else. So, I wanted to give back to the community and at the same time create a higher level of respect for the Iranians in America.”
On the City Council, he has plenty of opportunity to do both. Within the decentralized American political system, cities exercise considerable autonomy. Typically, they enact and enforce their own ordinances over a broad range of issues, including construction standards, business permits, vehicular traffic and sanitation. They also set zoning standards, which determine what types of construction and businesses will be permitted in various neighborhoods. Like many cities, Beverly Hills imposes and collects taxes and hires employees, including police officers and a city manager who runs the city’s day-to-day affairs under the guidance and policy set by the council.
In discussing the City Council, Delshad emphasizes its openness and the opportunity it gives local residents to find compromise on controversial matters. The council holds public hearings on a broad array of topics and listens to all who want to speak. It then makes binding decisions on issues such as whether a house of a certain design can be built within a certain part of the city (to maintain a neighborhood’s architectural integrity), or how much parking space, landscaping and street improvements a new hotel must agree to include in its plans before receiving a construction permit. Delshad says that the openness of the process is its great strength. “It’s a question of integrity,” he says. “Even if [some involved parties] disagree with your reasons, they respect your honesty.”
In many disputes, Delshad says, council members listen to all the testimony and then tell the opposing parties, “Go ahead and work it out between you. If you can’t come up with a compromise, we will give you a date to come back [before the council] and we’ll make a final decision.” Faced with the prospect of an all-or-nothing resolution, the parties usually find a compromise they both can accept.
One issue shows Delshad’s ability to serve as mediator between the Iranian-American community and other residents of the city. A number of years ago, newly arrived Iranians began building extraordinarily large houses to accommodate their extended families. These houses often featured vivid colors and architectural features that clashed with the homes around them, causing friction within the community. The matter was brought to the council.
“Since I got on the City Council in order to bring the communities together,” says Delshad, “I helped create a Design Review Commission. Designs would have to go through this special commission to make sure that the homes were appropriate for that street. As a result they became better designed, much better looking. The designers were happier. The [Iranian] homeowners were happier. And the neighbors were happier.”
The issue underscores some of the strengths that Delshad believes Iranians bring to American culture. “One of the things we have to offer is a very close-knit family,” he says. “They respect their elders, their parents .… They create a value system that gets handed down from parents to children. The respect for education is very important. They press children to get good grades, get a higher education.”
As for the benefits found in America, Delshad pointedly notes, “It’s a free country, and you can do almost anything you want .… You can be a minority – you can be a Jew from Shiraz – and you can come to America. With all that is happening between Iran and America, people here trusted me to be their mayor. It shows me that it is a free country, a forgiving country. It honors newcomers. It says, ‘Let your kids have their wings. Let them fly. They’ll do great.’”
Just look at Jimmy Delshad, in this city of dreams.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Steve Holgate
USINFO Special Correspondent