Jimmy Delshad, 66, elected to his second term on the Beverly Hills City Council by a 171-vote margin, will probably become the first Iranian-born mayor in the country, given the results of a final vote count Wednesday.
“There’s no guarantee, but that’s the tradition,” said City Clerk Byron Pope of Beverly Hills about the current vice mayor’s advancement to the top post.
The position of mayor is bestowed on an annual rotating basis. According to custom, the most senior member on the five-person council is formally selected mayor at the first City Council meeting after the election results are official; in this case, that would be March 27.
After the March 6 election, Nancy Krasne held the lead among the six candidates for the two open seats, and Delshad was second by only seven votes. About 892 provisional and absentee ballots have been counted since then. According to the new count, Krasne had the highest total with 2,710 votes, Delshad got 2,579 votes and Mayor Steve Webb came in third with 2,408 votes.
Delshad ran a highly publicized bid to become the city’s first Iranian-born mayor -- “I wanted to give the Persian community a sense of pride,” he said. Born in Shiraz, Iran, he came to the United States 48 years ago to attend school, first in Minnesota and then at Cal State Northridge. At CSUN, he studied electrical engineering and computer science. When he became a citizen in 1974, Delshad added the name “Jimmy” to his given Iranian name, Jamshid.
Nayereh Tohidi, a research associate at the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA, said Delshad’s expected advancement to mayor represents a common trend in immigrant groups as they assimilate into the larger community.
In the case of many Iranians, who immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s and ‘80s as a result of the Iranian Revolution, Tohidi said they often thought their stay would be temporary.
“But after 28 years of being here, many of them have become part of the society and have given up the idea of going back, or have accepted the reality of” their situations, she said.
Although Tohidi said Iranians are starting to participate more, she added that it’s important not to exaggerate the implications of the Beverly Hills election: Delshad will become mayor after a formal vote, not directly chosen by the electorate.
“We should not deceive ourselves that now we are here, we have such an important influence,” Tohidi said. “No, not yet. But it’s a good start, because it can trigger Iranian communities in other places to get more involved.”
The Beverly Hills election was not without dramatics. After Persian text was printed throughout the ballot, more than 300 residents phoned the city to complain. Some even said they protested by voting against the three Iranians campaigning.
Delshad said the uproar was a result of fear, mistrust and many people thinking Persians want to “take over” the city. He said he wants to “be a bridge” between the Persian community and others in the city.
About 26% of the 33,000-plus residents of Beverly Hills are Iranian, according to city statistics.
However, the focus on ethnicity alienated some voters, who said they chose not to vote for Delshad because of it.
Louis Lipofsky, 68, a longtime resident of Beverly Hills, called Delshad’s campaign tactic “divisive.”
“The fact that he thinks he’s distinctive because he’s Persian is appalling to me,” Lipofsky said. “I don’t think the fact that he’s Persian qualifies him to be anything in the city of Beverly Hills.... I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against or in favor of because of their ethnicity.”
Meanwhile, Delshad has received kudos from all over the world -- including Tehran, Amsterdam and Jerusalem -- for his election win. Tuesday morning, Israeli President Moshe Katsav, the first Iranian-born person to hold that post, called Delshad to congratulate him. Delshad, like many Iranians in Beverly Hills, is Jewish.
He said one of his main goals as mayor is to make Beverly Hills “the safest and smartest city in America” by such acts as installing citywide free wireless Internet, smart surveillance cameras and smart traffic lights.
Webb, 61, will end his second, and what he said is his final, term on the City Council on March 27, when he will probably turn over the mayoralty to Delshad.