By Arsalan Barmand, NIAC
Washington, DC --"I have a very deep pride and love for Atlanta," says Amir Farokhi, an Iranian-American attorney who recently declared his candidacy for a seat on the Atlanta City Council. In an exclusive interview with NIAC, Farokhi described why he is running, his relationship with the local Iranian American community, and his vision for Atlanta.
Born and raised in Atlanta to a Persian father and an American mother, Farokhi has maintained a life-long connection to the Iranian-American community in Atlanta. He provided legal assistance to the Persian Community Center in Atlanta when they sent relief aid to the victims of the Bam earthquake in 2003.
Helping fellow Iranian-Americans is a family tradition - his father came to the US in the 1960s for school and was one of the first Iranians to settle in Atlanta, thereby laying the roots for the Iranian-American community there. As time passed, Farokhi's father helped other Iranians settle in the area. His love for Atlanta has allowed him to expand this trait of service to his community to not only include Iranian-Americans but all Atlantans.
The elections are not until November 2009 - "I'm super early," says Farokhi - but there were a number of reasons for getting into the race now. First of all, he aimed to lay the ground work for the campaign, including raising money and getting his name out there. Second, within that context, creating a buzz and slowly building momentum are crucial to running a successful campaign. Farokhi felt that campaigning for a few months prior to the election would not be enough. Since he is a running for an 'At-Large' seat (as opposed to a specific ward), he has already begun talking to people in all of Atlanta's constituencies, building connections and presenting himself to Atlantans across the board.
For traditional Atlanta politics, "my candidacy is unique," Farokhi states. Typically in the city, candidates for city council have been either white or African-American. "Atlanta is a very diverse and progressive city; I believe my background and my name would generate some curiosity in people to learn more about me. That said, I'm not na´ve enough to think some people won't like that I come from an Iranian background. But I don't believe that the race or ethnicity of Atlanta's leaders is as important to residents as it is that the city work well."
Since childhood Farokhi has been exposed to all the various ethnic groups in Atlanta. "I have been able to relate to folks all over the city, and that excites me," he says. His father is a longtime Political Science professor at Atlanta's Morris Brown College, a historically black college.
"I am not a candidate carrying the flag for one issue, but many issues," he states. "But before we can address issues that will make Atlanta an even better place to live, we must first focus on making City Hall accountable and transparent." His platform consists of a number of issues, including transparency in city government, improving city services, increasing public transportation options, protecting neighborhoods and affordable housing, and increasing the city's environmental sustainability.
On financial accountability and transparency in the city government, Farokhi says Atlanta "[has] a challenge right now. Like many cities, Atlanta has not been immune to the negative effects of the economy. But Atlanta's budget crisis has revealed an institutional problem: residents and even the City Council, itself are too often in the dark on the city's budget and performance. It has become painfully clear that the input of Atlantans is often disregarded and residents are rightfully frustrated by this. There needs to be more transparency." From there, he says, it will be easier to tackle other issues.
Regarding city services, Farokhi says the residents are ready for solutions to the problems they are experiencing. New York and Houston have a system that allows residents to contact a central call center by dialing 3-1-1 for all inquiries (i.e. if their trash was not picked up, reporting potholes). Under a similar program that Farokhi wants to adopt, residents would be able to submit their service requests online and monitor their status via a tracking number.
Transportation is an issue that is on the minds of all metro Atlantans. Atlanta, Farokhi describes, is a city that was built around the automobile. Atlantans, he argues, cannot walk or use efficient public transportation to get across town. He wants to expand and improve public transportation to the point where having a car is not necessary for residents. "I have not met one Atlantan who doesn't want the city to be walk-able, to not have to get into a car if they don't want to."
The metro system's service area is very limited. Part of the reason is that the system does not receive state funding, and is financed entirely by the two counties it operates in. "If we do not get a better public transport system for the region, we are going to trip over ourselves in traffic in the years to come." Not only is it an environmental issue, he says, but it is an economic, livability and public health issue as well Farokhi believes that great cities pulse with street life and allow residents to move around efficiently by bike, train, bus or street car, among others.
Along this line, Farokhi advocates greater environmental sustainability. One idea he has is a 'green-roof ordinance', which provides incentives for those that 'go green' on the roof of their buildings (for instance, installing solar panels). He also wants to create programs to carbon-neutralize city buildings and operations, including city services and vehicles, and expanding the city's recycling program. His aim is for Atlanta to have the smallest carbon footprint possible.
In Farokhi's words, Atlanta has had a long history of 'boosterism' - the city leadership has been able to portray Atlanta as a greater city than it was. Though this has been great for business, the city has suffered because it lacked 'organic' cultural growth that comes with engaged residents, a good street life, and thriving neighborhoods throughout the city. But things are changing. "Atlanta is more progressive than the surrounding areas. There is a lot of natural, people-driven growth taking place in the city right now, including an increase in diversity, neighborhood activism and celebration of our existing history."
"Residents want potholes fixed promptly, sidewalks kept in good repair, safe, walkable streets and a City Hall that is responsive and transparent. Once we get the basics down and regain the trust of residents, we can tackle the long-term task of taking Atlanta from a great city to a remarkable, inspiring city."
For more information, go online to www.amirfarokhi.com.
... Payvand News - 08/14/08 ... --