Toronto Star Article: Calgary’s New Mayor Naheed Nenshi Declares He Is A Single, Heterosexual ,Young Man, & Not Gay!!!
For the Toronto Star/Larry MacDougal
CALGARY—Calgary’s most popular politician of the moment can barely walk a few steps anywhere these days without being stopped and congratulated.
One of Naheed Nenshi’s favourite phrases has been that he can’t think in sound bites and that even saying his own name takes longer than 45 seconds.
It’s a name that is now being hollered at him from passing cars and with it a recognition that has people running across the street to shake his hand and pat his back.
Civic politics in Calgary has been mainly a straightforward affair. Few surprises. Low turnouts. But Nenshi’s campaign, which got a late burst of energy, did something unusual. It changed perceptions from outsiders of what kind of city Calgary was and who Calgarians really were and his campaign motivated voters to head to the polls.
He won with 40 per cent of the vote handily beating his two closest competitors, a high-profile alderman and a former news anchor, both heavily favoured to win. Voter turnout at 53 per cent was the highest it’s been in four decades.
Nenshi had a core group of devout supporters who convinced him to run by starting a Facebook page; people who knew him through his work as a pundit on civic affairs in the local media, his volunteer activities, and students from the non-profit and business courses he taught at Mount Royal University.
He arrived in Canada in his mother’s belly. His parents, Tanzanian immigrants of Ismaili Muslim faith, raised the family in the city’s Marlborough neighbourhood. Among the many firsts, Nenshi is also the first mayor in modern times to come from east Calgary.
Then as now, the neighbourhood is known for being one of the city’s most ethnically diverse and poorest. Nenshi did his homework while manning the cash register at the family’s dry cleaning business, an experience he can laughingly recount now as teaching him at an early age how to make change.
The first time Kori Street, a chair at the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University met Nenshi, they were on opposing sides of a heated discussion at a faculty meeting over program definition.
“He was incredibly well-prepared and an effective orator,” says Street, who calls Nenshi’s departure from teaching a real loss for the school and students. “I still didn’t agree with him but what I learned was he’s someone who respects alternative perspectives.”
Nenshi, who holds a master’s in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was always interested in finding real solutions to civic problems, said former student Erin Delamont.
“We would look at a case study and you think ‘I understand this case and this is what should happen,’” said Delamont. “But you start discussing it with him and you begin to come up with thoughts you never would have before and you end up smarter.”
Nenshi explained his platform policies on YouTube and amassed a following of thousands on Twitter. His policies were easy to write, Nenshi said in an interview over dinner with the Star. Many were ideas he had been developing for years. Among his suggestions: help child hunger in schools by getting parents to add another sandwich in lunch boxes for kids to share. Another plan is to reduce the in-camera hearings at city councils and hold public hearings after work hours so more people can attend.
His first priorities are reducing the city’s $60 million deficit, getting an airport tunnel built and expanding rapid transit.
A turning point in the campaign was on the weekend of September 11 when unknown people vandalized his campaign office. Support began pouring in from different faith organizations.
Nenshi had been targeted before and called names, once getting a racial epithet yelled at him from a passing car when he was in Peterborough, Ont., and online commentators in news articles have made frequent derogatory references to his background.
He has also heard the talk about his status as a single man and can even joke about it.
“When you’re 38 years old and single and this darn good looking, people do ask that question to themselves. No one has the guts to ask me directly,” Nenshi said after the Star asked him whether he was gay and whether it matters. “I would love to have this appear in print. For the record, the answer is no if people care and no it doesn’t matter. This election has proven these sort of things don’t matter. People want to know my ideas.”
Nenshi said he’s not going to shy away from his religion or his race and has faith that most Calgarians don’t care.
“My ideas, my experience, my education is all part of who I am. The values I hold are influenced by all those things and it’s part of the crazy mix that’s called Naheed and part of the crazy mix that is Calgary.”