March 12, 2007
It’s official: Jimmy Delshad elected new mayor of Beverly Hills
After a cliffhanger vote count, Jimmy Jamshid Delshad is preparing to claim two titles at his March 27 inauguration -- mayor of Beverly Hills and top Iranian-born public official in the United States.
The milestone is being celebrated not only by his compatriots in Beverly Hills but also by the extended Iranian Jewish community of 30,000 in the Los Angeles area.
Delshad, 66, marked his all-but-certain victory on Saturday morning by attending services at three synagogues to thank congregants for their support. The first stop was at Sinai Temple in Westwood, where he had cut his political teeth by serving as president of the prestigious Conservative and traditionally Ashkenazi congregation from 1999 to 2001. He also visited Congregation Magen David of Beverly Hills and the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center.
Once the remaining absentee ballots were counted on Wednesday, Delshad had received 22 percent of the ballots cast, overtaking his closest challenger by 171 votes. The Beverly Hills city clerk will certify the election results by next week, and Delshad will be inaugurated as mayor on March 27.
Beverly Hills is governed by a five-person City Council, which in turn annually rotates the job of mayor among its members in order of seniority. The mayor presides over council meetings, but the city's chief executive is the hired city manager.
Delshad was initially elected as a city councilman in 2003 and this year served as vice mayor of Beverly Hills.
In the current election, voters had to choose among six candidates, half of them Iranian Jews, to fill two council seats, with Delshad assured of the mayor's post if he placed first or second.
When the polls closed March 6, Nancy Krasne, a city planning commissioner and board member of the National Council of Jewish Women, was the top vote getter. However, since she has less seniority on the City Council than other members, she is not yet in line for the mayor's job.
Delshad was in second place, ahead of incumbent Mayor Steve Webb by a mere seven votes. After the partial count of absentee ballots, Delshad had widened his lead over Webb to 86 votes.
At that point, Webb conceded and Delshad declared victory.
"I feel blessed to have been chosen by the people of Beverly Hills," Delshad said in a phone interview. "As a Jewish youngster in Iran, I was a second-class citizen and kept running into closed doors.
Through my example, I hope to open doors in America for other people like me."
The English-language Tehran Times, published in the Iranian capital, reported the election as a straight news story. Delshad said he had received congratulatory e-mails from some Muslims in Iran, especially from former neighbors in his native city of Shiraz.
Beverly Hills was an early destination for wealthy Iranian émigrés after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Today, Beverly Hills counts some 8,000 residents of Iranian birth or descent, primarily Jewish, among a population of 35,000, according to Delshad.
However, global and Middle Eastern issues played no part in the election campaigns, with Delshad and other candidates running on such local preoccupations as traffic tie-ups, water conservation and bringing advanced computer technology to city government.
Like every previous immigrant group, the Iranian newcomers were met with some suspicion and incomprehension upon their arrival, and not all frictions have been resolved. Veteran residents frequently complain about Iranians who buy large, handsome homes, only to tear them down and replace them with huge "Persian palaces" to accommodate the social needs of large, extended families.
Another flashpoint came during the election itself when, for the first time, ballot forms were printed in Farsi, in addition to English and Spanish. The city clerk's office was deluged with complaints, with one resident sneering that the new ballot "looks like a menu from a Persian restaurant with an English translation."
In both the housing and ballot controversies, Delshad has played his characteristic role as mediator, trying to explain the viewpoints of the Anglo and Iranian communities to each other.
Delshad has come by his American success story the old-fashioned way, by initiative, enterprise and hard work.
One of three brothers, Delshad left Iran as a 16-year-old in 1956, more than two decades before the shah's downfall, lived in Israel for 18 months, returned to Iran and left his native land for good in 1959 to settle in the United States.
After working for some time in a small Minnesota town, "where there were hardly any Jewish girls to date," he and his brothers bought a car and drove west, with no final destination in mind. The trip ended with his enrollment at CSUN, where he earned an electrical engineering degree.
To put themselves through college, the brothers formed The Delshad Trio, with Jimmy playing the santur, a dulcimer-like Persian stringed instrument. The trio played at bar mitzvahs and weddings, performing "Israeli music with a Persian touch," said Delshad, who still plays the santur for recreation.
After graduation, Delshad joined a fledgling computer firm and then formed his own company, specializing in computer hardware for backup systems. He sold the company in 1999, when he was elected president of Sinai Temple. When his civic duties allow, he does consulting and has established an import company for food packaging materials.
Delshad and his wife, who was born in Kfar Vitkin while her American parents were staying in Israel, have a son and daughter, both graduates of Jewish day schools and now in college.
"Being Jewish is part and parcel of my life," Delshad said.
Jewish Journal Contributing Writer Karmel Melamed contributed to this story.