The next mayor of Bainbridge -- Nezam Tooloee?

City Councilman Nezam Tooloee is aiming for the mayor’s seat with a platform focusing on spending, growth and island interests. - JULIE BUSCH photo
City Councilman Nezam Tooloee is aiming for the mayor’s seat with a platform focusing on spending, growth and island interests.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Tooloee has emerged as a prime mover in just 18 months.

There’s an old Iranian saying about “putting your heart out to sea.”

In Farsi, it reads: “Del beh darya zadan.” In English, it can be summed up with the word “enterprise.”

“That word – ‘enterprise’ – it just struck a chord with me,” said councilman and mayoral challenger Nezam Tooloee, recounting a pivotal high school English lesson during his youth in Iran.

“My teacher, who studied in the States, translated it with that old saying, which basically means that you throw yourself to the sea and that you ‘just go for it,’” he said. “It struck me that that was what America was all about – it was about being enterprising. And I decided that’s what I wanted to be.”

Tooloee dropped his childhood dreams of becoming a professional soccer player and devoted himself to academics with the single-minded goal of attending college in the United States.

His father, a general in the Iranian military, conditioned his son’s overseas adventure on gaining English fluency.

The young Tooloee consumed everything American – watching hours of “Colombo” and “Baretta” on television listening to English-language music and hanging out with Tehran’s large American ex-pat population.

Tooloee passed his English tests and went on to earn engineering and management degrees from Stanford University. He then embarked on a varied career in business, serving as a senior executive for three companies.

Continuing to hold his “heart out to sea,” Tooloee moved from California to Bainbridge Island in 1993 where he has recently established himself, after only 18 months in office, as a prime mover on the City Council.

And now he wants to be mayor.

“I see big challenges that need to be addressed and big opportunities we can capitalize on,” he said.

Tooloee has laid out a platform for curbing city spending, controlling growth and fighting harder for what he believes are the island’s interests in negotiations with the state ferry system.

Former Bainbridge Mayor Dwight Sutton believes Tooloee would likely apply “boundless energy” toward achieving his goals as the city’s leader.

“He’s certainly bright, a quick-study and I’m impressed with his approach to solving problems,” Sutton said, while stressing he is endorsing neither Tooloee nor incumbent Darlene Kordonowy. “Nezam’s a visionary in many ways and has an analytic-type mind. He’d be a good mayor.”

Characterizing himself as more “results” than “process” oriented, Tooloee said he’d aggressively cut recurring city expenses by reducing staff and curbing pay raises.

He’d advocate tighter regulations on some building permits to slow the growth of development and would attempt to move the ferry maintenance yard out of Eagle Harbor.

Property rights advocate Gary Tripp believes Tooloee would be a “wonderful mayor” based largely on the councilman’s work during the Critical Areas Ordinance update deliberations.

“He’s made (the CAO) much more favorable for homeowners,” Tripp said, citing Tooloee’s support for land use exceptions that permit smaller buffers near sensitive areas and easing building restrictions on slopes. “If you’ve got property on a slope, then Nezam is your hero.

“Nezam’s looked around. He sees his neighbors are responsible and are not trying to pollute and that they should be left alone. He knows that regulations ought to reflect that people are already good stewards of the land.”

But Tooloee’s approach has been taken as pushy at times, said Sutton.

“I’ve detected that he is occasionally more interested in getting his way,” Sutton said. “That’s something he’d need to work on, especially with council members, because the mayor needs to work with everybody.”

Bob Smith, a member of the Bainbridge Conservation Voters, said many of Tooloee’s proposed CAO changes are unpopular with environmentalists.

“Nezam’s managed to obfuscate and screw up this process for over 11 months – and that’s not good for the environment,” he said.

But Gale Cool, who worked to preserve Schel-chelb estuary on Point White, commended Tooloee for challenging “conventional wisdom” on ways to protect the environment and for advocating a “new paradigm” in city politics.

While saluting Tooloee’s gumption, Sutton cautioned that one of Tooloee’s finest attributes could come at a cost.

“If elected, he might be able to bring this community along at a rapid pace,” Sutton said. “But there’s a challenge and a risk with that.

“He might get so many balls up in the air that some of (the policies) may not be as well- researched or well-processed by the public.”

Nezam, however, feels that he can still sail into each challenge with his “heart out to sea” and maintain balance so that everyone stays onboard.

“People have to have the opportunity to buy into the results, to gain ownership,” he said, adding that broad inclusion makes for less conflicts in the future.

While “enterprise” may be Tooloee’s guide-word, ‘flexibility’ is his middle name.

“My parents didn’t give me a middle name,” Tooloee said. “One day a favorite client of mine asked my why, and I said it’s not the custom in Iran to give middle names. So he said he’d give me one. He said, ‘your middle name is ‘flexibility.’

“I thought that was an insightful observation. Whether I’m transplanting to America, or Bainbridge Island, or to council or maybe to mayor, I have no trouble adapting.”

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