2004 is definitely shaping up to be a major milestone in Iranian-American participation in American politics. With Iranian-Americans running for office in Oregon (www.ameriforcongress.com) and Iranian-Americans running the previous campaigns of the top 2 mayoral candidates in the San Francisco Mayor's race, we seem to be stepping up to the challenges of self determination, not just for our own community, but that of the general American community at large.
Now enters Ross Mirkarimi (www.rossforsupervisor.org) possibly the savviest political beast we've offered up yet. Ross ran the recent closely fought campaign for San Francisco Mayor by Green party candidate Matt Gonzalez. This after conducting a pretty damn successful California campaign for Ralph Nader in 2000 considering the odds. Ross knows that he has what it takes to stand for office and best of all he knows exactly what he wants to do. He's not looking for an issue to jump on, he brings the issues to the table, and defines the stakes.
Ross is the newest breed of Iranian, one that like me you may have started seeing crop up now and then, more and more, and it is a phenomenon that is puzzlingly intriguing.
OK, let's get it out there and be done with it. He has never seen Iran. He does not speak Farsi. But he is inherently Iranian. And I'll tell you why in a second.
His father was a good looking, independent Iranian and his mother a 2nd generation sassy Russian-American. They met young in Chicago, married young and shortly after Ross, divorced young. The marriage did not last mainly due to their youth and Ross's mother's family's inability to accept their daughter being married to an Iranian, and not a Russian.
Ross moved to Rhode Island with their mother and came to spend time during the summers and other off-seasons with his Father in Chicago. His father subsequently remarried and had 2 more sons, Ross' half brothers. These times were spent in focused Iranian cultural immersion, and whether he knew it or not, the seeds of Iranian-ness were planted in Ross at an early age. There to lay dormant until the right time and place. Which as you will see is here and now.
Ross has an outstandingly well rounded education having received his bachelors in Political Science (what no Engineering!) from Washington University and St. Louis University (where he graduated as class president), a Masters in International Economics, another Masters in Environmental Sciences! I'm tired just writing all that down!
Ross moved to San Francisco in 1984 and as he began to delve into the world around him, soon became actively involved in local social issues. So much so, that when the Green party began to think of founding a California chapter, Ross took the baton the rest of the way, planting the Green party flag straight into the liberal heart of the Golden State in 1992.
Now after campaigning for the likes of Terence Hallinan, the infamously outspoken liberal San Francisco DA, and with the recent close election campaign he ran for the Green Party's other surprise, Matt Gonzalez, Ross is ready to take his own steps forward, by targeting one of the most important districts in San Francisco, district 5.
What makes this district tough is that it spans a wide cultural and class cross-section. Yuppy homeowners in Hayes Valley, to the homeless in the Fillmore, a part of town steeped in 50's jazz history, to the still anti-establishment and alternate-idea aging hippies in the famed Haight-Ashbury. Ross has to find a way to honestly represent all of these people as their elected City Supervisor, Tough isn't the half of it.
To give this race an even bigger challenge, take the opponents. Of the 30 odd candidates running for the spot, as you would expect a San Francisco campaign to include, you name it there is every shape and color to Transgendered (girl who became a boy) candidates, almost everyone vying for the good share of the LGBT community support, but who surprisingly do not always vote as one. If you count Ross as a Green, that make 2 green party candidates.
Now while if you like me are now totally confused, speaking to Ross about this, he is not phased in the least, which means he has a plan up his sleeve on how he will win. And when you talk to him it feels like it is a matter of fact that he will win. Not that he's cocky, far from it, but his matter of fact manner, his ability to have each step pre-planned and expected, and his simple message approach, exudes that this is simplythe best level headed can-do-right guy for the job. He has the right kind of campaign for the right kind of constituency, good looking young advocates wise beyond their years, who know what is right for their future today. Attending a “Ross for Supervisor” event is a lesson in modern grassroots-ism.
So what makes him Iranian? When he has nothing tangible save the lasting impression of a not too long gone Baba. Possibly in this story he told me. After he helped Terence Hallinan secure the DA's office in SF, as part of the incoming team, Ross decided that he would help Hallinan in the prosecution of environmental and white collar crime, by entering the Police Academy and becoming a criminal investigator. One of the staunchest liberals being essentially the head cop in a traditional big American city police department culture, the local police establishment was less then enthused by Hallianan's victory. To make revenge even tastier, here was a minion entering their world. As Ross explains it, “I spent many a night dropping and giving them 20, as I explained why I was against the death penalty!” The effort though showed his character and Ross emerged from the academy with not only the respect but also with the leading rank of his graduating class.
I immediately pointed out, “That's exactly what makes you Iranian, Ross.” I said
“Why do you say that?” He asked. You could tell he had needed to hear this for a long time.
“Only an Iranian has the brass to continue to mouth off even when he has clearly lost advantage.” I said, smiling as I thought back on how many times I had seen this syndrome before. Here it was happening all over again, and he didn't even know it.
If he wins, I mean when he wins, I offer that he will be one of the highest placed elected Iranian-Americans in the country. I say this because cities are where we live, access to power in the cities is very real access to political power. The kind that matters. Even if we all lived in DC, having an Iranian-Senator whose votes are ignored or trampled by the other senators' is largely useless. Just look at the majority who voted for the Patriot Act. But to those of us who live here, reasonable access to Ross is huge.
The interesting thing about Ross is that his politics are largely pragmatic. Even though for him it's the closest thing to the perfect Party, he is not necessarily a Green candidate anymore, and many Republicans and Democrats will likely endorse him. That may very well be the one Kalak he has planned for his campaign, pragmatically qualified. It will certainly be a hurdle for his opponents who are toeing the party line, to overcome.
Ross attended the Green party's convention last month championing the NOTA (None Of The Above) position as a protest vote against both leading traditional party candidates Bush and Kerry. His reasoning, well the Bush argument should be obvious, but among other things that should concern everyone, Kerry doesn't seem to understand that having the Green party in the last election as well as this one, will not affect the success of the Democrats as they fear. As long as they focus on the swing states and the Republicans and stop worrying about and more importantly, wasting energy on the Greens. The claim that Nader and the Greens took votes away from Gore in 2000 is ludicrous and statistically false, but paranoia's normal when it comes to a popularity contest.
So in the run up to this fall's national election there is more at stake and more to gain than the grand theater being played out on the national scene. Closer to home there is Arts Verit? going on, down here on the street, where real people live and play.
Welcome to Mr. Mirkarimi's neighborhood.
If you are in San Francisco and would like to meet Ross Mirkarimi, you can on Thursday August 5th, 6:30-8:30 PM , at L'Entrecote restaurant, located at 2032 Union Street. There is no charge for attending the event and for more information you can call: 415-810-2008.
To learn more about Ross Mirkarimi or to help his campaign, please visit: www.rossforsupervisor.org