Beverly Hills Eyes Iran Native for Mayor - NPR PDF Print E-mail

Morning Edition, March 8, 2007 · The race for mayor of Beverly Hills, Calif., is virtually tied. Jimmy Delshad leads by seven votes, but the results await certification by the city clerk. If Delshad is declared the winner on March 16, he will become the city's first Iranian-American mayor.

The mayor is the leader of the city council, with no executive power. Beverly Hills has a city manager who serves in that role.

But having Delshad as mayor would be a source of pride for Iranians in Beverly Hills, who now account for nearly a quarter of the city's population.


Delshad is by far the community's most prominent Iranian. Like many Iranian Jews, he fled his homeland after the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979.


Delshad made his money in the computer business, and jumped into politics four years ago.


He said Tuesday's election was tough, and said he's "excited and exhausted."


Sitting in his City Hall office Wednesday, Delshad says the race got heated when the city clerk decided to print the entire sample ballot in Farsi as well as English. Delshad says he was inundated with angry calls from residents. He remembers the first time he ran for city council four years ago. There were no angry calls then. He says that's because everyone assumed an Iranian couldn't win.


"Because of that they didn't focus on me they just ignored me," he said. "I prefer people focusing on me because I have something to prove I can prove it. I hated being ignored."


On election night, hundreds of supporters shared a spectacular Persian buffet and waited on election returns at his mansion just blocks from City Hall.


Hundreds more came out to the polls to vote for Delshad and two other Iranian candidates on the ballot. Voter Mali Salandaj, a local bank teller, says she'll be proud to have a Persian as mayor of the city.


"Because it's the first time, so it is very important for us," she said.


Participating in local politics is new for Iranians in Beverly Hills. For many years they've been criticized for being too insular. And neighborly relations have been most strained over Iranians' architectural choices. Many tore down some of the city's stately homes to build ornate, marble-laden mansions, dubbed "Persian palaces" by critics.


Famous men's clothier Fred Hayman has grimaced at such changes over the years.


But while lunching at Spago's in Beverly Hills, Hayman says he's not worried about Iranian's growing political clout.


"They are good people, nice people," Hayman said. "The mistakes were made early on by not having architectural control on the North Side, because it was a more charming community (before). But the people as a whole, they are great people."


Hayman says he supports Delshad for mayor, and respects him even though the two have tussled over local issues.


Delshad says he realizes there is still a lot of work to be done to bring the two communities together and he hopes he gets to do just that.


"We need a bridge," he said. "We need people to get involved and make that bridge. Hopefully, I will be one of those bridge makers."