Cyrus Habib: Iranian-Americans Test Political Glass Ceiling

Tom Banse
PRI's The World

In the 1970′s to mid-1980′s, tens of thousands of Iranians fled repression and unrest in their home country and emigrated to the United States. Over the years, Iranian-Americans have ascended to corner offices in corporate America, academia and Hollywood—but are still largely absent from the political scene. Here, we meet Cyrus Habib, who has broken into politics in the Seattle area and become the highest-ranking, elected Iranian-American official in the United States. Yet as reporter Tom Banse found out, Representative Habib’s ethnicity isn’t the only thing about him worth noticing.

History was in the making last fall in the suburbs of Seattle. But voters didn’t know that when a young-ish, dark-haired blind man came knocking.

“I wear sunglasses as do many people who are blind and I use a cane,” says Cyrus Habib, who door-belled 7,000 homes in his campaign for an open seat in the Washington state legislature.

“It happened not infrequently that people seeing me walk up the front steps would assume that I was with community services for the blind,” said Habib. “They’d be surprised when they answered the door and I’d say, ‘No, I’m running for office.’ Then they became much more guarded.”

Undaunted, Habib raised more money to win election than any other Washington House candidate in state history. He also appealed to Iranian-Americans beyond Seattle; dozens of campaign donors from that community contributed the maximum amount allowed.

“It was gratifying,” says Habib. “You know, I think we’re at a critical moment as a community of Iranian-Americans, or Middle-Eastern Americans.”
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