BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – After marking their votes on bilingual English-Farsi ballots, residents of this tony Los Angeles suburb awaited the final tally in a tight City Council race that highlighted the growing clout of Iranian immigrants.
Jimmy Delshad, 66, was seeking re-election and could become the city's first Iranian-born mayor. The top two finishers in the six-way race will get seats on the council, and re-election would give Delshad the seniority to be named mayor.
Early Wednesday, challenger Nancy Krasne led the field, according to unofficial results posted on the city's Web site. She had 2,486 votes, or 24 percent.
Delshad was holding onto his seat with a mere seven-vote lead over incumbent Steve Webb, in third place. Delshad had 2,192 votes or 22 percent, to Webb's 2,185 votes, or 21 percent.
While 100 percent of precincts were reporting, 892 provisional and outstanding ballots remained to be verified.
"This is the beginning of a very important trend," said Abbas Milani, co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at Stanford University. "Having done the economic part of establishing their roots, Iranians are getting more organized in politics."
The chance to become one of the highest ranking elected Iranian-American officials in the United States was not lost on Delshad.
"Iranians have always been successful in business and education," Delshad said. "But they don't think of themselves participating in politics even though local politics is what most impacts their lives."
In Beverly Hills, the mayor is the presiding officer of the council; a hired city manager is the city's executive officer.
An Iranian influx into Southern California began after the last Shah of Iran was toppled in the Iranian revolution of 1979, prompting thousands of Iranians — especially Jewish and educated classes — to come to America. Today about 8,000 of Beverly Hill's approximately 35,000 residents are of Iranian descent.
Delshad moved to Beverly Hills 18 years ago after immigrating to America as a teenager. He started a successful computer hardware company, and sold it after being elected president in 1999 of the Sinai Temple, a conservative Jewish congregation a few blocks west of city limits.
He has campaigned on promises to improve traffic flow, provide free Internet service and install "smart" cameras that can alert police departments to criminal activity.
The Iranian-American presence here became a campaign issue last month when sample ballots were sent out in Farsi and English. City Hall received hundreds of complaints, said Byron Pope, the city clerk.
Delshad said he opposed the bilingual ballots and tried to make clear he had nothing to do with them.
"The Iranian community is one of the most educated minorities in America and reads English well," he said. "The ballots only caused confusion, and were an insult to many Iranians."