09 September 2003

Iranian-American Elected to Beverly Hills City Council

Businessman Jimmy Delshad inspires other Iranian-American political aspirants

By Armond Caglar
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- As the excitement continues to grow for Austrian-born actor Arnold Schwarzenegger's candidacy in the hotly-contested California gubernatorial recall election, another prominent - yet lesser known - American immigrant has already been elected to political office there, this time with particular excitement from the Iranian-American community.

Jimmy Delshad, a long-time southern California resident and former computer businessman, defeated Beverly Hills' two-time incumbent mayor and was elected to the five-member city council in March 2003. For someone with no prior experience in electoral politics, Delshad's election was considered a major political upset. And, as an Iranian-American, his election also opened the door for a community eager to play a larger role in American political life.

"I decided to run for [the] Beverly Hills City Council [because I wanted] to give back to [the] Beverly Hills community and set an example for others to follow," explained Delshad, who emigrated to the United States from Iran in 1958 and has been living in the Los Angeles area ever since. "As an Iranian-American, I wanted the Beverly City Council to have the benefit of my business background and understanding of cultural issues."

Delshad is believed to be the only Iranian-American to be elected to public office in the United States.

An entrepreneur by trade, Delshad's primary interest was not always politics. When he came to the United States 45 years ago, Delshad maintains he had nothing more than $100 in his pocket. Using a keen business sense and innovative spirit, he managed to embark on a successful career in high-tech business, specifically, computer storage technology and, in 1978, was able to open his own small business. His computer products were eventually sold and marketed throughout the world.

It was not until later in life that Delshad's passion turned to politics. Having spent years as a committee member and chairman on various non-profit and civic organizations throughout the Los Angeles area, Delshad's interest and passion for political activism eventually blossomed.

Later, as he worked his way to become president of two major non-profit organizations, including the Magbit Foundation, a highly respected organization that fundraises and distributes interest-free loans to Iranian-American college students, Delshad began to focus his interest on city politics as well. He began attending various municipal commission and committee meetings in Beverly Hills, through which he developed an expertise on the issues facing the city.

Though he still lacked political experience in the public sector, by the time of the 2002 election season, Delshad felt his experience in the business and non-profit fields could bring refreshing ideas to a city facing growing ‘quality-of-life' concerns, notably, traffic congestion and public safety coordination, and he decided to run for a city council seat.

The former entrepreneur's victory over an incumbent politician was an impressive accomplishment. In American electoral politics, incumbents enjoy the benefits of personal name recognition and an established political organization.

"[Throughout my campaign] I [was] hoping to create a more inviting atmosphere and a more unified [community]," Delshad recalled. "I wanted to break down cultural barriers and open the way so other Iranian-Americans would be encouraged to run for other [political] offices all over America."

The Washington, D.C.-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting Iranian-American involvement in American civic life, reported that, indeed, more Iranian-Americans are now running for political office.

Most recently, Dr. Badi Badiozamani, another prominent Iranian-American, has announced his candidacy in California's gubernatorial recall election, joining Arnold Schwarzenegger and almost 140 others vying for California's top political job.

According to NIAC board member Dr. Michael Chegini, Delshad is a pioneer for other Iranian-Americans who seek elected office. Chegini also believes the councilman's prior civic involvement sets a great example for others to follow. "I believe Mr. Delshad can be influential for other Iranian-Americans in [the] United States by sharing his experiences."

Delshad's groundbreaking election is also a testament to the growing political activism in southern California's Iranian-American community. The community played a crucial role in his victory, helping to spread his message to voters by hosting campaign events in their homes and participating in various election committees for his campaign. Delshad also tapped into this involvement by aiming some of his election platform specifically at Iranian-American voters.

"[I believe] Iranians have political as well as educational and business power, and they should not be ignored or taken for granted," explained Delshad.

Since his election, Delshad has encouraged the local Iranian-American community to continue their political and civic activism through involvement in religious and other community-based organizations.

In order to become more involved in the American political system, Delshad believes Iranian-Americans should first use their collective resources to learn fundraising on the non-profit level before moving on to higher aspects of political and civic participation. This experience, according to Delshad, can lay an important groundwork that future political aspirants could use.

So what is next for Councilman Jimmy Delshad? For a man whose political role models are, appropriately enough, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic president, and Golda Meir, the first female Prime Minister of Israel, Delshad may be planning to hold higher-level positions in the future. He has hinted running for mayor of Beverly Hills after his term as councilman ends in 2007

"Like many other people, I came [to the United States] because I heard America was [the] land of opportunity and equality," Delshad said. "Now I stand as living proof that it's true. And I am proud and blessed to be an American."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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