Tabatabai seeks political middle of the road
East Jackson resident has worked on town issues since 1991.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 8, 2008
Abe Tabatabai sees politics everywhere.
“There is politics even in small towns – maybe not to extent of Chicago or Philadelphia – but even if you have a man and a wife there is politics,” he said, smiling. Politics “is all the art of compromise, and you do need to compromise to get something done. Compromise makes things happen.”
As the only person running for Jackson Town Council with a political science education and more than a decade of experience in Jackson government, Tabatabai feels he alone is positioned to bring his professed “middle of the road” approach to the issues facing the town.
“Staying in the middle of the road – it’s my uniqueness and that balance that I am talking about,” he said.
Tabatabai came to the U.S. from Iran to go to college, attending Utah State University and majoring in political science and international affairs. He planned to return to Iran and earn a post in that country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where his uncle worked.
“He was a role model,” Tabatabai said. “My ultimate goal was to be ambassador to somewhere, but the revolution put a damper on those thoughts.”
With the change of government brought by the overthrow of the shah by Ayatollah Khomeini, Tabatabai decided to stay in the U.S. and in 1990 became a U.S. citizen. Having grown up in a system that was only nominally Democratic, Tabatabai said he relishes the opportunity to be involved in local politics.
“I definitely appreciate it more,” he said.
He moved to Jackson in 1981 with his wife.
“I decided I loved Jackson to vacation and wanted to make it my permanent home,” he said. “It was a good day, a good year, a good period.”
In 1986, the couple bought a home in East Jackson. Tabatabai’s wife died of cancer, and he still lives in the home they bought. Houses weren’t beyond the reach of working people then.
“Studying political science and coming to Jackson, I was a survivor,” said Tabatabai, who has worked for decades at Teton County School District No. 1. “My first job was in the cafeteria as a production manager.”
Tabatabai still works for the district, though he now heads the maintenance department.
Tabatabai first volunteered for a slot on the Jackson Planning Commission in 1991.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to put some of my education to use,” he said, “and basically, it’s a cliche word, but I had done good for myself with the help of lots of friends and neighbors and it is a good thing to do to give something back.”
During his time on the commission, he helped begin the 1994 revision of the comprehensive plan, which he later finished as a member of the town council
Tabatabai said his experience on the council and the planning commission is especially important as the community endures another revision of that document.
“I believe to be a planning commissioner should be almost a prerequisite for a town councilor,” he said. “A finance background, an engineering background can all come to the rescue once in a while but most of our chores revolve around planning, whether developments or zones.”
Tabatabai admits that he is considered a wild card on the council. He speaks against planned mixed-use developments but has signed off on many, professes to be against four-story buildings but has endorsed two of the tallest proposed in Jackson, and says he supports affordable housing though he has opposed raising the housing mitigation rate.
Rather than see his voting record as inconsistent, he sees it as independent and focuses on compromises he can live with.
“There is value in some of the projects I voted for and the ones I have not [voted for] I have not seen the value,” he said. “I have not voted unanimously at all times.”
Behind those votes is a pragmatism that forces him to look at the realities and problems of a growing community even though he personally would like to return to the small town he visited for the first time in the early 1970s.
“Ideally like 20 years before,” Tabatabai responds when asked how he would like Jackson to look in 10 years. “It is not going to stay the same but what may happen in 20 years I might be able to make [happen] in 30 to 35 years with the planning we do today.”
Tabatabai bristles at suggestions made by challengers that the council is to blame for redevelopment in town that some say is too big and happened too quickly.
“I disagree with some of the comments in the primary that this council is doing it,” he said. “Some of us maybe are to blame a little more than others, but just by the nature of Jackson Hole this is a desirable place and people come.”
Though Tabatabai believes the town needs his perspective as it attempts to tackle some of the huge development issues currently on the table, at the heart of his re-election bid remains a love of local politics.
“Some Monday nights if I don’t have a meeting I don’t know where to go,” he said, laughing. “Just going around to neighbors to stick a sign and they grab you for half an hour and either complain or praise you for a vote or a decision.”