IRVINE, Calif. — Farrah Khan’s road to mayor of Irvine began in the Bay Area, on a path of service.
There were speed bumps on her journey to the leadership role she now holds. She lost a city council seat in 2016 before her triumph in 2018. Now, after her victory in November, she enters the first term as mayor in turbulent times. State-mandated curfews and the shutdown of critical local businesses have put people out of work, and how to get needy residents help is under hot debate. Wage insecurity, rental insecurity, and the accompanying strains on the city budget are the concerns of the day.
First, she’s rolling out a response to the epidemic that has weakened the financial footing of cities all over the nation.
Her political career has been replete with firsts. In her debut term as a councilmember, she was the first woman of color ever to hold a seat in Irvine. She was the first Muslim, and now her mayoral victory marks a new bullet point in city history.
But her career in politics was long preceded by a culture of service taught at her family kitchen table, during Muslim holidays and prayer at the Mosque.
Born in the Bay Area, Khan’s parents emigrated from Pakistan. They celebrated Ramadan together, a month’s long celebration that asks practitioners of the faith to fast from sunrise to sundown. The day after the celebration ends, Muslims are encouraged to donate to the poor.
“If we were unable to make our fast a certain day our parents would say, ‘ok then you need to provide food for someone who needs it one day,’” she said.
Khan, 49, enters her role as one of the city council’s three progressives, upending a streak of Republican leadership. A top priority for her, she said, will be the rollout of public service announcements [PSA] to educate people on the importance of getting vaccinated.
The rollout of the Moderna doses to combat coronavirus has been rocky, with the county providing too few vaccination sites as some vials of the drug are at risk of expiring.
“We’re going to be looking at TV time, social media, definitely get some mailers out too,” she said. “It’s not only about the person themselves, it’s about others. When we push out our PSA, it will be about why people should wear a mask and who you’re wearing it for.”
Khan and other mayors worry about supporting distressed residents. Some families will receive money through the recently passed federal stimulus. Others who need specific types of assistance won’t.
Khan’s hope is to get residents relief, primarily through rental assistance. Other cities have bolstered rent relief coffers, but Irvine hasn’t had a program to prop up needy residents. Now that it needs one, Khan is pushing for money.
She’s hoping to get money to help renters who may have missed rents for months.
Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, said Khan is a strong progressive voice. Last year, when workers at the Irvine Marriott wanted to join the local hotel union, Khan backed them.
“She stood up for room attendants and dishwashers and cooks,” she said.
Khan has worked on her progressive bona fides, but long-standing Irvine issues remain. Among them is the Great Park. Freshly elected city council member Larry Agran, who first proposed a veterans cemetery at the Orange County Great Park, ran on the same platform.
“For me, the Great Park has been a focal point,” Khan said.
The state still hasn’t chosen a location for the cemetery, and Khan doesn’t want to get ahead of herself.
Her first goal, however, is the pandemic and to represent the entire breadth of her constituency.
“The city was ready for change, and it’s open to diverse leadership as long as that leadership represents them,” she said.