BEVERLY HILLS – Persians who celebrated their new year last week will mark an even bigger occasion tonight, when Jimmy Jamshid Delshad is sworn in as Beverly Hills mayor, becoming America’s highest elected Iranian-American official. More than 1,000 people are expected for Delshad’s inauguration, which because of the anticipated crush has been moved from the council chambers to Crescent Drive, adjoining City Hall. “There’s a phenomenal feeling of pride in the Persian community around the world,” Delshad, 67, said. “People are gratified something good is coming into the news after all the negative and all the tensions between Iran and the United States. “Persians are calling it the greatest new year’s gift we’ve had in years.” Delshad’s victory, by just 171 votes, came after a divisive campaign that heightened simmering ethnic tensions in Beverly Hills, which became the destination for many wealthy Iranians fleeing their country after the 1979 fall of the Shah. Many longtime residents complained, for example, that the ballot was printed not only in English but in oversize Farsi, the language spoken by Iranians. As a result, the city has activated its emergency operation center to address any “potential issues” that arise in conjunction with tonight’s inauguration. Here to stay Delshad said the campaign revived suspicions and animosities that had simmered for a generation in Beverly Hills, where Iranian-Americans comprise an estimated 8,000 of the city’s 35,000 residents – although longtime residents insist the number is much higher. “I would not call it `resistance’ (to the presence of Iranian-Americans), but more of a fear of the unknown,” he said. “`What is it they’re here to do? When are they going back or are they staying here? What are they going to do? Are they going to change our language?’ “My job is to make (non-Iranians) aware that the people who are here in Beverly Hills are here to stay. They are just as American as the other people and, in fact, sometimes they are better Americans because they (have been) selective. They’ve chosen to be an American. They weren’t just born here, but it was a choice.” Delshad was first elected to the City Council four years ago – a fact that Beverly Hills Weekly publisher Josh Gross believes was even more significant than his inauguration as mayor, a position that rotates among council members based on seniority. “There’s some people (in Beverly Hills) talking about it, but not as much as the media outside Beverly Hills,” Gross said. “On the council, Jimmy has voted and acted like the rest of the council members. He’s not a Persian radical. In the recent election, we actually had three Persian candidates. They had different opinions on issues. They weren’t that close. And they didn’t run as a bloc.” According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Iranian American Council, Delshad becomes the highest-ranking Iranian-American elected official in the country. Iraj Broomand was the first Iranian-American to serve as mayor of a U.S. city, winning election to the Westlake Village City Council in 1997 and subsequently serving as that city’s mayor. For Delshad, being an elected official has meant being a kind of ambassador, a go-between for the traditionally insular Persian community and non-Persian Americans – a role he has been playing since immigrating to the United States in 1959. Delshad earned a degree from California State University, Northridge, launched his own successful computer storage business and moved to Beverly Hills with his wife, Ilana – who is not Iranian – so their two children could enroll in the city’s high-performing schools. Having already been in the U.S. for more than 20 years when Iranian immigrants began settling in Beverly Hills, Delshad could see changing social dynamics. “I saw how we were intimidating to others by creating the impression we were here temporarily, that we were rich and didn’t need you, that we selected separation,” said Delshad, who changed his first name from Jamshid to Jimmy when he became a U.S. citizen. `Persian Palaces’ When he ran for City Council four years ago, he became the first elected representative of a community that had largely disdained participation in many of the city’s civic, cultural and educational activities. Except for ethnically motivated incidents in schools, those hostilities rarely surfaced in a community best known for its shopping district along Rodeo Drive. Then longtime residents pressed the council for an ordinance prohibiting the building of extravagant white-pillared mansions that locals call “Persian palaces.” “When difficulty building homes in Beverly Hills with too much of a certain style came up, I wanted to find out what we could do,” Delshad said. “I sought out to be a bridge. I wanted to create a bridge between the different communities. That’s (been) my role in life.” Just as he has been explaining to council colleagues the cultural need for large homes – three generations often live under one roof – Delshad said he has also tried to broaden the views of Iranian-Americans, encouraging them to become involved in city affairs and to register to vote. Four years ago, at the start of Delshad’s first council campaign, only 1,500 of the Iranian-Americans in Beverly Hills were registered to vote. “In Iran, if you were on a list it was generally not good,” Delshad said. “It doesn’t matter what the list was because somebody would misuse that list. There was that fear.” Delshad said he will continue to work as an ambassador between the two communities. His first priority will be returning the city’s election ballot to its original form, with Farsi either eliminated or reduced in size. In winning one of two at-large council seats, he defeated Steve Webb, who had just served as mayor. Nancy Krasne was the top vote-getter in the March 6 election, but Delshad has more seniority, so the honor goes to him. “I took the Persian issue and I used it in a positive way,” said Delshad, looking back at the election. “That is the way we do things here in America. I’m a poster child for that. As a Jewish youngster in Iran, I was a second-class citizen and kept running into closed doors. “Here in America, I am the mayor of Beverly Hills.” [email protected] (818) 713-3761 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!