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Iranian-American Becomes Beverly Hills Mayor

Beverly Hills, the upscale California community many movie stars once called their home, is getting a new mayor - an immigrant from Iran named Jimmy Jamshid Delshad. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, the mayor became the highest-ranking US public official of Persian descent.

Jimmy Delshad came here as a teenager 49 years ago. He studied electrical engineering, and made his fortune by starting, and later selling, a data storage company. More recently he started a second enterprise that sells food-packaging supplies. For the past five years, he has devoted much of his time to charity and civic affairs, something he wanted to do as an immigrant.

"And I felt like I owed something to America because when I was growing up, all doors were closed to me," he said. "I had to work hard to get anywhere and anything. And America gave me the opportunity to do anything I wanted to do."

His adopted city of Beverly Hills has barely 35,000 permanent residents, but it may be the most famous small town in America. Known for luxury shops and elegant restaurants, the city's residential streets are lined with mansions, where the old-time Hollywood stars once made their homes.

Delshad is part of the large Iranian Jewish community that came to Beverly Hills after Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979. Today, they are nearly one quarter of the city's population.

In 2003, Delshad was elected to city council. In Beverly Hills, council members take turns in the posts of vice mayor and mayor, and this year it was Delshad's turn in the number one spot. He faced a tough reelection campaign in which ethnicity was a factor. He says that the city clerk, who coordinates elections, printed this year's ballot in Persian, Spanish and English, and some US-born voters objected.

"And many, many phone calls came [in]," he said. "Because of that they thought they were not going to vote for anyone that was of Persian background. So there was a big backlash against me. At the same time, we had also a backlash from the Persian community that said, we don't need that. We are educated, we read English and so forth, and a very, very small number of people wanted that."

Delshad has promised both sides that he will settle the issue of multilingual ballots based on input from the community after he takes office.

He was reelected to city council by 171 votes, and so he kept his seat on the council, and in the coming year, will take his turn as the city's mayor.

Many local immigrants are pleased. Delaram, a college student from Iran, works part-time in a Persian-language bookstore.

"Somehow it makes me proud and happy that an Iranian person has become the mayor of Beverly Hills, the famous Beverly Hills, and he is a distinguished person," he said. "Yeah, that's a good feeling."

Alex Helmi runs a shop that sells antiques and carpets.

"We are seeing more and more our community getting more involved in politics, and we feel great about it," he said.

Jimmy Delshad is good friends of another immigrant politician, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was born in Austria.

"Yes, I just had lunch with him, in fact," he added. "He comes and we smoke cigars at a restaurant. And I do see him and I am very proud of him. He feels very similar to me that we both want to give back to America, and do everything possible to show our gratitude for America."

Beverly Hills is a small town, but one of the most famous in the world. Tourists come from around the world to soak up some of the glamour, and to mix with the rich and famous.

Although the position of mayor is largely ceremonial, Jimmy Delshad says it will keep him busy, dealing with the ordinary issues that concern city government, like traffic and potholes. He also plans to bring his engineering background to bear in his job as mayor, saying he hopes to better coordinate the city's traffic lights, use high tech cameras to monitor parking lots and schools, and make free wireless internet available in the city.