PARIS, TEXAS — This charming, droopy city needed new fire trucks not long ago, but, like many American municipalities today, couldn’t necessarily afford them. The mayor, a small-government Republican, dithered: to buy or not to buy? He turned to the natural choice for advice on running a Texan city: Pervez Musharraf, the exiled ex-president of Pakistan.
Mr. Musharraf may seem an unlikely adviser to the mayor of a Southern town where crickets chirp shrilly and the leafy streets are dominated by places pledging to fix your truck. But even more unlikely is the man he advised: Mayor Arjumand Hashmi, a Pakistani-born cardiologist who has become one of the United States’ most improbable politicians.
He is like the opening line of a joke: “So a Texan, a Muslim, a Republican, a doctor and the mayor of Paris are sitting at a bar …” Except that he is, by himself, all of the people in the joke.
America seems to be an ever more divided, bitter country. Lost amid those divisions is the story of how a down-on-its-luck town in Texas struck its own little blow for unity. A little more than a year ago, this city of 25,000 — overwhelmingly white and Christian — made a Muslim outsider their mayor. (Dr. Hashmi had campaigned to be one of seven city councilors and, having won, was voted mayor by the council.)
The mayor swept into office with an immigrant’s zeal: planting hundreds of crepe myrtle trees on the loop around the city; surprising local agencies with impromptu visits during his lunch hour; interrupting the “brother-in-law deals,” as they’re called in the South, that gave contracts to the wrong people; using tax abatements to lure businesses to Paris.