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March 27, 2008

Delshad reflects on his year as B.H. Mayor

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/delshad_reflects_on_his_year_as_bh_mayor_20080328

Jimmy Delshad and Iranian Jewish businessman Parviz Nazarian. Photo by Karmel Melamed

Jimmy Delshad and Iranian Jewish businessman Parviz Nazarian. Photo by Karmel Melamed

Mayor Jimmy Delshad was surrounded by nearly two dozen local Iranian Jews at his Beverly Hills City Hall office on March 10. Holdings hands, they recited a prayer of thanksgiving and he personally thanked his supporters in the community for backing his efforts as mayor.

"I really could not have done everything I did as mayor without your help," Delshad told his supporters. "I hope that every time you enter the city and see the letters 'B-H' you will think of the words 'Baruch Hashem' -- and be thankful that we are represented and have a voice in the city government."

Delshad is the first Iranian Jew elected mayor in the United States, and after one year in office his term ended on March 18.

He narrowly won re-election to the Beverly Hills City Council last year after running against two other Iranian Jewish candidates vying for votes from the 20 percent to 25 percent of Beverly Hills' Iranian residents, many of whom are Jewish. The five-person City Council annually rotates the job of mayor among its members in order of seniority, and when Delshad's turn came on March 27, 2007, he made national headlines.

"For most of our 2,500 year history, members of this community [in Iran] were deprived from participation in politics," said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. "Then suddenly, within one generation, when this opportunity was granted to us in Israel and the United States, through people like Jimmy Delshad, this community proved that its talents are not limited to commerce and academics."

Reflecting on his tenure as mayor, Delshad said he was particularly proud of introducing measures to bring new technology to the city's basic services and security, as well as spearheading the council's approval of an Iran divestment measure.

"I'm proud of introducing the 'smart' city initiative so Beverly Hills can do everything smartly. That means we don't water our grass or parks when it's raining or going to rain, we should be able to have our parking meters run on solar power and credit cards, and we should be able to know by cameras if a car is passing through the city and is wanted by the F.B.I. or is stolen," Delshad said.

But Delshad also weathered some controversy when a small group of Beverly Hills residents opposed to development repeatedly accused him of accepting favors from real estate developers.

During a Feb. 19 City Council meeting, some residents from the Beverly Hills North Homeowners Association requested Delshad answer questions regarding allegations that he might have received benefits from the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

"Initially, when I posed questions to Jimmy Delshad at a meeting, he refused to answer and ultimately cut off my microphone," said Larry Larson, the group's vice president.

For his part, Delshad said he has answered his critics and proven the allegations were false by making his financial records public.

He said the allegations are an outgrowth of years-long anger over his support for development of the Montage Hotel on Beverly Drive, a project some Beverly Hills homeowners tried to block.

"From day one they were against me, they think Persians are developers and would develop high-rises in Beverly Hills. But that hasn't been the case during my five years on the council," Delshad said. "Since I was a big proponent of the hotel, they were against me and because the City Council voted for it, then they lost a referendum on the hotel, and they also went to three different courts in California and lost -- so they have certain wounds."

Trailblazing in politics is nothing new for Delshad, who initially made history in 2003 by becoming the first Iranian Jew elected to public office in the United States after a successful grass-roots campaign that energized Beverly Hills' Iranian Jews and catapulted him into office in Beverly Hills.

"Jimmy truly likes to be cutting edge and will do everything he can not only to help our community but everyone in the city -- I think he's really shown his leadership while being mayor," said Doran Adhami, a Delshad supporter and a volunteer for the Magbit organization, an Iranian Jewish nonprofit based in Beverly Hills.

Local Iranian Jewish leaders said younger community members have been inspired by Delshad's political leadership in representing them and transforming the image of how Iranian Jews are perceived in Southern California.

"Obviously we are extremely proud of Mayor Delshad, not just because of the way he represented us but mainly because of the way he discharged the duties of his office by represented the people of Beverly Hills," Kermanian said.

Iranian Americans of other religions have expressed their admiration for Delshad because he is also the first American of Iranian background to be elected to public office in the U.S.

"Mr. Delshad's work while mayor was very positive for all Iranians in the city and he proved that an Iranian is quite capable and can be successful while serving in public office," said Assadollah Morovati, the Iranian Muslim owner of "Radio Sedaye Iran" (KRSI), a Persian language satellite radio station based in Beverly Hills. "For every Iranian, he brought us an incredible sense of pride."

Delshad's term on the City Council will end in 2011 and he said currently he has no plans to run for a third term. But depending on the outcome of the March 2009 city elections, Delshad could end up serving another term as mayor in 2010.

To listen to Karmel Melamed's full interview with Delshad, visit his blog at: http://jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.

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