By PAAIA Government Affairs Office
Sept. 14, 2010, Irvine, CA – Bijan Mazarji’s life has been defined by public service to his community and a love of country. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to see his name on the November ballot for Irvine City Council. The son of an Iranian father and an American mother, Mazarji has lived in Irvine his entire life and is one of seven candidates running for two city council seats. He is also the second Iranian American running for Irvine’s City Council in this year’s election. The other candidate, Shiva Farivar, whose campaign was supported by IAPAC earlier this year, is the current Chair of the Irvine Community Services Commission. Recently, PAAIA had the opportunity to sit down with Bijan Mazarji and discuss his campaign for Irvine City Council.
What motivated you to run for public office?
I have been involved in community service since an early age. Being a city councilmember is another way I can stay involved and give back to my community. I don’t plan on being a career politician, only a career public servant. I plan to use my office to better Irvine and Orange County. When I have accomplished my goals and made a positive difference in Irvine, I’ll look forward to the next person to do their part as a councilmember.
Tell us a bit about why you decided to join the military and about your experiences serving in Iraq?
I joined the Army to serve my country and give back to the nation that has given my father so much. He emigrated from Iran without knowing a word of English and was able to accomplish so much with all the opportunities afforded to him by America. My mother’s family also has a proud tradition of military service with many of my family members serving in World War II. My tour in Iraq was interesting to say the least. I spent time on and off the base and talked with many Iraqis. Many of them were grateful for the overthrow of Saddam but at the same time very concerned with the lack of security and lawlessness. The Iraqis immediately recognized me as Iranian and expressed to me a deep sense of brotherhood between us. I even shared dinner at the invitation of two Iraqi barbers who lived on the base. It was a simple meal, but delicious anyway. Many American soldiers were open to experiencing Iraqi culture and frequented many of the Iraqi-run shops on base. However, some had an irritating and misguided habit to call everyone and everything “haji”. I felt obliged to try and let them know the impropriety of its use to my fellow soldiers. I went so far as to explain a little about the hajj and for whom the term is reserved. Many times I felt I was the unofficial ambassador of cultural awareness. But overall, my time in Iraq was very difficult as was the case for all the soldiers. We had to find pleasure in the simple things to get through it.
How will your experiences in Iraq affect your service in the City Council?
A lot of politicians talk about service and sacrifice. I have a much deeper understanding of those words from my experiences in Iraq. Serving my country is a great honor and puts our rights and privileges as Americans into perspective. As a soldier and a city staffer it is my duty to carry out the policy of my elected officials. As an elected official my duty is to make city policy that creates the most good for the people without negative secondary effects. Seeing firsthand the effects of U.S. policy in Iraq, I am better equipped to avoid the same mistakes in Irvine.
What are some of the challenges your campaign must overcome to mount a successful election?
A: There are seven candidates for two councilmember seats. I’d like to believe I don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a simple local election. However, when I see how many signs, flyers, mailers and commercials are out there, I know that I need to be creative with ways to enhance my name recognition. The other challenge is explaining a policy position in a sound bite. There is a lot of pressure to cater to groups to get their support. But my approach is speaking from my heart and doing the right research on an issue to answer truthfully. That is more important than any one group’s approval.
How will you communicate your ideas to the public?
I have been walking precincts and using a lot of online media like Facebook and my website www.bijanmazarji.com. I plan on reaching the community via email and in person in the coming weeks. I also use other traditional media like business cards, stickers and signs.
What differentiates you from your opponent/s?
I have been in public service my entire life. Many candidates, and not just in Irvine but everywhere, think that government can be run like a business and if we throw enough money at a social issue or “get tough” on that issue we will solve it in time to get home to watch Family Guy. The world around us is becoming more instant but good public policy still takes time and hard work. I want to put in the work hours, make the compromises and agreements that will keep Irvine one of the safest cities in America and one of the best places to live.
What particular skills or experiences will you bring to the City Council?
Ten years working for the City of Irvine will be one of the experiences I draw most from. My military service is also important. My time with nonprofit groups in the areas of alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention will be invaluable to working towards the City’s Strategic Plan for Children, Youth and Families. My education in criminal justice and public administration has also given me a strong understanding for the theories behind public policy and what has worked in the past and what doesn’t work.
What role do you think Iranian Americans can play in your campaign and what do you expect from the community?
Irvine is home to a very large Iranian American community. As an Iranian American, I hope my community can support me by telling their friends and neighbors about my campaign and vote for me on Election Day. Iranian Americans occupy every professional field and have been one of the most successful cultural groups in the country. However, we lack a cultural and ethnic representation in our government that most other communities benefit from. On a side note, I was very happy to see the Iranian American Census campaign and I loved the video with Maz Jobrani. We need more of that type of involvement from the Iranian American community.
What role can organizations like PAAIA play in assisting your campaign?
PAAIA can help me get the word out to the Iranian American community in Irvine about my campaign. The community in Irvine is very fortunate to have two Iranian American candidates for City Council and two City Council seats to fill. If we all do our part and vote, Irvine’s Iranian Americans can become well represented in their city government. There are a lot of programs and benefits we miss out on as a community when we don’t participate in our government. Click here to learn more about Bijan Mazarji.