Apparently our mayor is sexy, beloved and good at Twitter

While other cities deal with allegations of crack and bribes, Calgarians get giddy over Nenshi

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is the sexiest, most beloved of all Calgarians, the city’s second-greatest claim to fame after the Stampede and its best Twitter personality — or so say Fast Forward Weekly readers who participated in this year’s Best of Calgary poll. As a matter of fact, Nenshi has stood out (in our readers’ opinions at least) as Calgary’s most adored and arousing citizen for three years in a row.

Now, sexual charisma is a matter of taste. Some of us are more attracted to Meatloaf than Ryan Gosling, because it’s not always about looks, or even roughly symmetrical features. In online surveys, however, the lookers usually win out.

Nenshi’s aware of this. He jokingly credits much of his “sexiest” status to having lobbied the provincial government to ensure eye exams remain exempt from coverage by Alberta Health Services. He also admits “the hair is kind of a mistake.”

Seriously, though, mayors are rarely so popular, especially in this time of scandal and derision — most notably thanks to Toronto’s Rob Ford, Gérald Tremblay in Montreal and Gilles Vaillancourt of Laval. Generally, the public finds mayors a little plain. Not minister of agriculture plain, but still, hardly a Dr. Gonzo roadshow.

Maybe Nenshi’s appeal is that, like other Calgary mayors who preceded him, he has an “of the people” air, and a sense of candour.

Rob Ford’s working-class persona comes in spades, but rather than making him attractive, Ford’s antics have arguably won him first place for most embarrassing mayor in North America. What’s the difference (aside from allegations of crack use)?

“It is important for mayors to not only do the hard work that we do every day to keep the city going, but also to embody the spirit of the city, and that’s something that I try very hard to do every day,” Nenshi says in a sit-down interview.

And Ford doesn’t? “Well, I try hard to do it every day.”

The key difference that makes Nenshi appealing and Ford embarrassing is that Nenshi is common, but he’s not a clown. Despite his Ivy League education, Nenshi is a plebian. Ford, even without the scandal, is a tribalist who scores points with hostility while denying his own failings.

Nenshi isn’t perfect, but he’s human in a more agreeable way. He jokes and teases and goofs around; he can be petulant and sucky in the face of criticism; he wears his feelings on his sleeve; he’s stingy and a complete nerd. Calgarians realize we’ve elected an intelligent, probably honest man who would otherwise be playing Warhammer with the rest of the nerds in one of Mount Royal University’s study rooms. That’s a plebian the city can get behind.

Likable as the great dork is, though, Nenshi risks letting it go to his head.

“I am so lifting you over this balcony one day, Daorcey, to re-enact the scene from Lion King,” he says to his media advisor, Daorcey Le Bray, while having his photo taken on a city hall balcony.

“Everything the light touches is your kingdom,” his assistant replies.

“We need adoring throngs to cheer, though, hopefully made up of sensitive animals….” says Nenshi. “I think that would be awesome.”

He smartens up when he remembers he interrupted his own interview to goof off.

“I’m not smart enough to have different modes of behaviour for different people. You just get who I am,” he says. “Sometimes the media are like, ‘whoa, he teases us, that’s weird.’ And sometimes they’re surprised that I will actually call them on stuff if I think it’s incorrect. I think everyone’s got a job to do and I will never begrudge anyone their job, but I also think that we owe it to citizens to make sure that we are accurate in what we do. And sometimes I call people on that and they call me thin-skinned for that. I just call it being fair.

“Everyone’s not going to agree on everything in a city this big. And I think the great thing that we’ve evolved in the city is a culture where we can actually talk to one another, where we’re not blinded by ideology or by where we stand, and in fact can just have conversations about what’s right for the city outside of the left and right spectrum that no one really cares about.”

His opponents, however, typified by crusty potential 2013 mayoral candidate Dave Rutherford, do care about it.

“But I don’t think citizens care about it,” Nenshi responds.

He points out citizen satisfaction rates are the highest they’ve ever been and attributes the municipal government’s success of late to an overarching policy of citizen participation. That doesn’t mean he takes it for granted, or was even sure he wanted to stay in the mayor’s office long enough to hoist his staff over the balcony.

“It actually was difficult to decide to run again. I don’t think of myself as a career politician and I really spent some time thinking…. I decided that there’s still a lot more to be done. We’ve started, set the wheels in motion on a number of things — particularly around transforming government and figuring out how to make this government more citizen-focused and more effective — [but] there’s still a lot of work to be done…. As we go into the election I think that will be an opportunity to have a deeper conversation with Calgarians about a bunch of things. We do need to talk about the structural issues in our budget, and about our debt and about how difficult it is for the city to provide the services that people need. We need to have a real conversation in the city about poverty.

“Three years later I’m still humbled by the fact that people are willing to put their hopes and dreams for the city in my hands even for a second, and that is overwhelming and humbling, but it’s also exhilarating and I hope that I’ll be able to do something good with it.”

Comments: 8

Canadiankgb wrote:

Nenshi is the first to poke fun at himself, the first to admit errors and mistakes and the first to spend money in a transparent fashion. That combined with his wit, the humour and the intelligent people helps make him accessible, successful and most apparently, humble enough to know when to ask for opinions and ideas from citizens. He will easily get ALL the votes from my house and we would happily dress in animal costumes to make that Lion King shot come to life. He would make the event fun.

on Jun 13th, 2013 at 10:01am Report Abuse

John Ablett wrote:

The naivety of the people of Calgary about this fellow is worrying. He comes from a world of tenure and entitlement, and no amount of silliness and pandering to people who don't "THINK" will make him an effective Mayor. You are being seriously manipulated. Populism due to frenzy does create good or capable leadership.

on Jun 13th, 2013 at 1:02pm Report Abuse

kelsonmanor wrote:

John, can you provide any evidence of his failings?

From my perspective Nenshi is not just personable and hands-on, he has been efficient, transparent and highly capable in his position as manager of Calgary. I will gladly vote for him again.

on Jun 13th, 2013 at 2:56pm Report Abuse

wdavidj wrote:

Most people I discuss this with will not be supporting the Mayor next time 'round. It appears the sheen has worn off. Personally, he slips into petty politics way too easily, which is not what I expected. I'll be seeing who runs as I rarely vote for the same mayor twice. New blood every election is a good thing.

on Jun 13th, 2013 at 8:56pm Report Abuse

MeMyselfandI wrote:

He does not come from entitlement. If you think this you don't know him. Look into his history. He is well educated, and well spoken, and this he has done for himself. He is incredibly effective because he is very intelligent, capable and calls it like it is. How can you not respect that? There is always going to be "games" in politics but I like that he is able to call people on it. I think he's fantastic. Absolutely getting my vote!

on Jun 14th, 2013 at 6:38am Report Abuse

mhickey wrote:

Naheed and I were good friends and classmates in graduate school. I can't vote in the election since I don't live in Calgary (or Canada, for that matter), but I can tell you personally that you won't find an individual who is more dedicated, honest, and concerned about the public good than Naheed. I'm proud to call him a friend and Calgary should be proud to call him Mayor. Frankly, I'm jealous and wished he lived in my neck of the woods because we would love to have him as a public servant.

on Jun 14th, 2013 at 7am Report Abuse

CalgaryCentre wrote:

I'll second John's comment. While Neshi is a decent ambassador for the city, we need more than a mascot in the mayor's office. His attempt, along with others, to manipulate recent tax refund issue should be an alarming wake-up call for many.

on Jun 14th, 2013 at 9:04am Report Abuse

Agent666 wrote:

People love fat, ill-tempered men with skeletons in their closets and a fondness for big porkbarrel projects (airport tunnel, subways) with shady accounting as mayors, with Naheed Nenshi and Rob Ford being prime examples.

Things will really not improve, unless the Province steps in and cleans up civic politics. There needs to be a Federal-style ban on all business, organization (e.g., C hamber of C ommerce, C algary Homebuilder's Association, Manning Foundation) and union donations to civic campaigns, and a very low limit for individual donations--with Federal donations capped at $1,250, a couple of hundred at the municipal level ought to suffice. Provincial authorities need to count ballots, in order to avoid the sorts of incidents that happened last time (that 'accidental' miscount of stacks of 25 ballots as 50, in one ward, which was caught on a recount). And the Province needs to audit municipal expenses, and forget about granting cities more revenue powers.

Unless this happens, we will continue to have crooks like Klein, Duerr, Bronconnier, Nenshi, and all of their rivals and fellow C ouncillors, who are bought and paid for by developers, contractors, lobby groups and unions. A Nenshi, or someone else won't make a difference. Take the case of Shawnee Slopes. This project is opposed by most of the residents in the community, but backed by Naheed Nenshi, since Geo Energy donated a large sum to his campaign. Dianne C olley Urqhart was originally opposed to it...until her campaign donor, C ardell Homes, bought the project. And the current PlanIt vs suburban development fight is basically a war between condo and infill developers (Knightsbridge Homes, etc.) and greenfield developers (Shane Homes, Avi, and others). We need to take big money out of local politics.

on Jun 14th, 2013 at 10:46am Report Abuse

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