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First Iranian-American to serve on city council in state files for election to the position in November

Happy Valley Councilor David Emami, who in March 2019 became the first Iranian-American to serve on a city council in Oregon, hopes to make statewide history again by getting elected to the position in November.

David Emami"I'm all about breaking barriers, and if I can help trailblaze a path to inspire future leaders, I'm glad to take that challenge on," Emami said.

After getting appointed to a vacant council seat last year, Emami has frequently been approached by strangers who recognize him for "living the American dream," since his parents were immigrants to America.

"My parents always taught my brothers and me to work our hardest at everything we do, and I'm very proud of the success my family and I have achieved," he said.

Emami said that the biggest challenge that he's faced as a city representative has been from people who don't live in the city, or even the state. He doubts that most of his fellow city councilors across Oregon get their legitimacy questioned on such a personal level.

"The city of Happy Valley itself has been overwhelmingly supportive, but there have been a few people outside the city who have questioned my citizenship, even though I was born in Portland, Oregon; I've received private Facebook messages asking about my religion, and I've had to deal with a stalker," he said. "I'm proud of my Persian heritage, and my lived experiences have prepared me to be a better leader. If, in the process of leading, I can dispel some of the stereotypes that are out there, it's an added bonus."

Since protests for Black Lives Matter have captured the attention of Americans nationwide, Emami believes his participation in representative democracy is critical. In conjunction with the United Community Alliance of Happy Valley, he voted with other city councilors to pass a diversity proclamation that committed Happy Valley to building a more safe and inclusive community.

"Now more than ever, it's important to have people who are often underrepresented or overlooked in leadership positions, and I hope to continue to help amplify the voices of minorities in our city." he said.

Emami was chosen as a liaison to help implement the city's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program. He's also the council's representative on the city's parks committee, library board, arts committee and the Clackamas County Street Light Budget Committee.

"In the past year, we've adopted the city's first Urban Renewal District to fund critical infrastructure such as 172nd Avenue without raising taxes on our residents," Emami said. "I've also supported the plans to start the Superblock Sidewalk Project, which immediately built new sidewalks around our schools and parks."

Despite being new to the political scene, Emami has been asked by both Democrats and Republicans to run for several higher offices. He tells such recruiters that his only interest is continuing on Happy Valley's City Council.

"I have stayed true to being nonpartisan, and I'm comfortable working with both sides," he said. "When I look back to see all that we accomplished in just one year, I get really excited thinking what we can do in four more."

COVID-19 has made it more difficult for city representatives by forcing the cancelation of all the events where Emami would normally interact with the public. While he is proud to have supported the addition of Oktoberfest to the city's Harvest Festival last year, he recognizes that it made practical sense to cancel summer events like the city's signature Independence Day celebration.

"At the end of the day, the public safety of our community is more important than holding these events. I'm going to put my trust in science, and that might come across as political to some people, but we have to work together to get through this as much as possible," he said. "Right now things are very polarizing, and people want you to pick a side, but I'm more focused on finding solutions."

Those solutions include Emami's support of grants by voting for an emergency small business assistance program that helped 49 Happy Valley establishments survive the economic hardships caused by the pandemic. Since what led Emami to a council position was leading his neighborhood's fight against the Scouters Mountain development, he's supported the city's efforts to plan the Pleasant Valley/North Carver Area with extensive community outreach.

Emami supported and helped with the installation of the All Abilities Park in partnership with Rotary, but his park-building efforts are only getting started. During his time on council, the city was awarded over $14.3 million in settlement funding from the breach of contract by North Clackamas Park & Recreation District so the city can start its own parks program.

"That money is going to be the foundation for us to acquire land, improve and build new parks, and I dream that one day we will get the community center we badly need," he said.

As of Aug. 3, Emami was the only candidate for the election that includes the seats currently held by Emami and David Golobay. Candidates for elections in Happy Valley must file by Aug. 25. More information about filing can be found at happyvalleyor.gov.


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