Iran Na­tive Be­comes Mayor of Bev­erly Hills

Bridg­ing Cul­tures Is A Big Part of His Role

The Washington Post Sunday - - National News - By Sonya Geis

BEV­ERLY HILLS, Calif. — Jimmy Delshad promised in Farsi-ac­cented English to faith­fully serve as mayor, and a crowd of nearly 1,000 stood to cheer. And so Bev­erly Hills got its first Ira­nian Amer­i­can chief ex­ec­u­tive, mark­ing the po­lit­i­cal ar­rival of an im­mi­grant com­mu­nity that has qui­etly re­shaped this fa­mously posh city over the past 25 years.

Delshad, 67, is now widely re­garded as the high­est-rank­ing Ira­nian-born of­fice­holder in the United States. It’s a source of pride for Ira­nian emi­grants around the world. He was re­elected to the Bev­erly Hills City Coun­cil for a sec­ond term ear­lier this month and ro­tated into the mayor’s seat last week.

“I’ve had more calls and e-mails from out­side the U.S. than inside the U.S.,” Delshad said in the mayor’s of­fice the day af­ter he was sworn in. A con­grat­u­la­tory bou­quet dom­i­nated the ta­ble next to him. “You name the coun­try, I’ve had calls.”

In his in­au­gu­ral speech, Delshad spent more time on the in­tractable traf­fic prob­lems in Bev­erly Hills than on his eth­nic­ity. He sug­gested pro­gram­ming park­ing me­ters so they could be paid by cell­phone, draw­ing gasps and en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause.

But Delshad knows he is a cul­tural am­bas­sador as much as a city ad­min­is­tra­tor. “I wanted to open doors for oth­ers who would see me as an ex­am­ple,” he said in his speech.

And Delshad, who is Jewish, chose a Holo­caust sur­vivor to swear him in. Go­ing off script, Delshad said from the lectern, “Don’t let any­body doubt the Holo­caust, be­cause if you do, I’ll buy you a one-way ticket to Auschwitz.”

“That was di­rected to [Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud] Ah­madine­jad,” he said the next day. “They put in the pa­per in Iran: ‘Per­sian Jew Will Be Mayor of Bev­erly Hills.’ ”

Af­ter the fall of the shah in 1979, Ira­ni­ans, many wealthy and well-ed­u­cated, fanned out across the United States and Europe. While some have found suc­cess in busi­ness and academia in this coun­try, fewer have en­tered pol­i­tics, pre­fer­ring not to draw at­ten­tion to them­selves, said Trita Parsi of the Na­tional Ira­nian Amer­i­can Coun­cil.

In Europe, by con­trast, it is “eas­ier to get into the po­lit­i­cal life than the eco­nomic life,” Parsi said. An Ira­nian im­mi­grant serves on the Swedish par­lia­ment, and, un­til last year, an­other served in the Dutch leg­is­la­ture.

Los An­ge­les ab­sorbed thou­sands, and a large con­tin­gent of Per­sian Jews found their way to Bev­erly Hills. Now, about 8,000 of the city’s 35,000 res­i­dents are Ira­nian. They have made their mark — and some­times ruf­fled feath­ers — in this sunny oa­sis of palm-lined streets.

Here the pub­lic schools give stu­dents the day off for Norouz, the Ira­nian New Year hol­i­day in March. This month, for the first time, bal­lots were printed in Farsi as well as Span­ish and English.

Some Ira­ni­ans’ pref­er­ence for large houses with col­umns and gates has trans­formed streets of sin­gle-story bun­ga­lows with lush lawns in front, prompt­ing an out­cry from older res­i­dents, who scorn the new two-story flat-fronted houses with paved yards as “Per­sian palaces.”

“We have lots of fam­ily gath­er­ings, lots of par­ties,” said Parvin Shahlapour, an Ira­nian im­mi­grant and so­ci­ol­ogy re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les. Groups of 50 or more may con­gre­gate weekly in one home, so “we like big guest rooms, large din­ing rooms,” she said.

The fes­tive ways of Per­sian cul­ture have also drawn noise com­plaints from neigh­bors. “Bev­erly Hills is used to go­ing to sleep at 9 o’clock,” Delshad said. “This is the time we get started.” One of Delshad’s tasks as mayor will be to re­spond to Ira­ni­ans who want to bring late-night restau­rants and clubs to the city, some­thing other res­i­dents may re­sist, he said.

But if they are re­mak­ing Bev­erly Hills, their po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment — and ac­cep­tance — has been slow. In Delshad’s first cam­paign four years ago, he re­ceived death threats and felt he needed body­guards. But re­ac­tion to his re­elec­tion this month was more sub­dued, though hun­dreds of peo­ple did call the city clerk to protest the print­ing of bal­lots in Farsi. Delshad won a nar­row vic­tory.

Nooshin Meshkaty, who worked on that cam­paign and is now a mem­ber of the Bev- erly Hills school board, said per­suad­ing Ira­ni­ans to vote was dif­fi­cult.

“They have to ac­cept that it’s not step­ping on any­one’s toes to par­tic­i­pate,” she said. Also, Delshad said, many feared putting their names on any kind of of­fi­cial list, since in Iran such lists of­ten meant “some­one would come af­ter you.”

Delshad, a slight man with gray­ing hair and a wide smile, sees him­self as uniquely suited to bridge his na­tive and adopted cul­tures. He im­mi­grated with his brother 49 years ago, and when later waves of im­mi­grants ar­rived, their cul­tural dif­fer­ences “hit me in the face,” he said. As he earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree and be­came a suc­cess­ful com­puter en­gi­neer, Delshad used his flu­ency in both cul­tures to me­di­ate be­tween them.

Among his fans is Mimi Rast­gar, who stood in the back and wiped away a tear as Delshad took his oath of of­fice this week.

“I am so happy that he is the mayor,” she said af­ter­ward, “es­pe­cially now that the Iran gov­ern­ment is not pos­i­tive about Jews. We are sec­ond-class peo­ple in Iran.”

“This,” Rast­gar said, cock­ing her head to­ward Delshad, “is proof that if we have a chance, we can do any­thing.”

BY RICHARD HAR­TOG — LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Jimmy Delshad is sworn in along­side his wife, Lon­nie. He is be­lieved to be the high­est-rank­ing Ira­nian-born of­fice­holder in the United States.

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