Iranian Jew Elected Beverly Hills Mayor
After a cliffhanger vote count, Jimmy Jamshid Delshad will 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 Delshad’s compatriots in the golden ghetto of Beverly Hills, but also by the extended Iranian-Jewish community of 30,000 in the Los Angeles area.
On March 10, the day after the results became clear, Delshad marked his victory by attending services at three synagogues to thank congregants for their support.The first stop was Sinai Temple, where he cut his political teeth as president of the prestigious Conservative and traditionally Ashkenazi congregation from 1999 to 2001.
Although the election in the independent municipality was held March 6, the results weren’t clear until three days later following a partial count of absentee and provisional ballots. Final figures are not expected to be certified until March 16.
Beverly Hills is governed by a five-person City Council that annually rotates the job of mayor among its members in order of seniority. Delshad, 66, was initially elected as a city councilman in 2003. This year he served as vice mayor. In this election, voters had to choose from among six candidates – half of them Iranian Jews – to fill two council seats. Delshad was assured of the mayor’s post if he placed first or second.
When polls closed March 6 he was in second place, ahead of incumbent Mayor Steve Webb by a mere seven votes out of some 10,000 cast. With 892 absentee and provisional ballots still uncounted, the outcome remained uncertain. But by Friday evening, with two-thirds of the absentee votes counted, Delshad had widened his margin over Webb to 86 votes. At that point Webb conceded.
“I feel blessed to have been chosen by the people of Beverly Hills,” Delshad told JTA 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, known for its luxurious homes and celebrity residents, was an early destination for wealthy Iranian emigres after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Some 8,000 residents of Iranian birth or descent, primarily Jewish, now live there among a population of 35,000, according to Delshad.
However, global and Middle Eastern issues played no part in the election campaign, 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 previous immigrant groups, the Iranian newcomers were met with some suspicion and incomprehension after 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 their extended families. Another flash point came during the election when ballot forms for the first time 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 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. He lived in Israel for 18 months, returned to Iran, then departed 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 Delshad’s enrollment at a Los Angeles-area college, 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 for recreation. After graduating, Delshad joined a fledgling computer firm. Then he formed his own company specializing in computer hardware for backup systems. He sold the company when he was elected president of Sinai Temple in 1999.
When his civic duties allow, Delshad does consulting work for high-tech firms 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,” he said.