The Changing of the Guards: Naheed Nenshi
October 28, 2010 5:33 PM   Subscribe

In stark contrast to the recent results of the Torontontian mayoral results, last week, Calgary, the third-largest "municipality" in Canada, elected the country's first Muslim mayor, Naheed Nenshi.

Whereas Toronto's new "arch-conservative" Rob Ford displaces the extremely liberal, arts-friendly David Miller, whose 2003-2010 incumbency saw the rise of the idea of "Torontopia"/"uTOpia," a vision of the city as an environmentally-friendly, eminently-cyclable site of homegrown arts and culture accessible to all, in Calgary, Nenshi displaces Dave Bronconnier, who, while a liberal, was 35th in a long line of white men to hold the position, and as such, did little to challenge "the popular image of Calgary as a white-bread oil town with a tendency toward big hats during Stampede Week."

An Ismaili Muslim, Naheed Nenshi's
parents emigrated to Canada from Tanzania when his mother, Nury Nenshi, was pregnant with Naheed. They settled in Toronto before moving to Calgary, where Naheed grew up. He attended Harvard University, and at the tender age of 22 was hired by McKinsey and Company, one of the world's top consulting firms. After about eight years at the company, he returned to Calgary to be with his ailing father. He has since worked for the United Nations, started his own business, and became a professor at Mount Royal University. He was a frequent commentator and columnist with a keen eye on civic affairs; this spring, he decided to throw his hat in. (Source.)
Most of this information is summed up in his 2-minute bio video. He’s the "lead author" of Building Up: Making Canada’s Cities Engines of Growth and Magnets of Development and his policies are based in part on Toronto darling urban theorist Jane Jacobs. With only a 6-week campaign and a grassroots campaign driven by volunteers known as the "Purple Army", he "went from 8 percent popular support to more than 40 percent [...] in a matter of four weeks" for a "surprise victory".

International media outlets from Africa, India and the United States have picked up the story.

However, some are saying the real story is not his ethnicity or religion, but rather his use of social media technology: "E-mocracy reigns as Twitter elects new Calgary mayor"; "Naheed Nenshi: Politician 2.0" (interesting analysis); "Naheed Nenshi and Social Media"; "[Nenshi has] taken a page out of U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign book by reaching out to young voters through Twitter and Facebook." "In 2009, [Calgary] earned [Macleans Magazine's] designation as Canada’s smartest city, and boasts the highest level of Internet usage in the country." His Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and iPhone app.

Speaking of Obama, who's that on the t-shirts of both of his sister's kids in the 5-minute YouTube video "Naheed Nenshi: A Family Journey"? The comparison has been made ("He's the Obama of Calgary"), but some don't like it.
posted by skwt (52 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:35 PM on October 28, 2010

Aaaah I searched, nothing came up.
posted by skwt at 5:37 PM on October 28, 2010

posted by skwt at 5:39 PM on October 28, 2010

Yeah, yours is more thorough.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:39 PM on October 28, 2010

So he has an omnipotent invisible friend. And he got elected mayor. Great.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:41 PM on October 28, 2010

I was going to mock you for the double, but this is a really awesome post. Good work.
posted by heathkit at 5:47 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can we delete that one and keep this one?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:48 PM on October 28, 2010

Impressive post!
posted by fish tick at 5:53 PM on October 28, 2010

Thanks for putting this together, skwt. This will take a while to read. I hope it doesn't get deleted.
posted by nangar at 5:58 PM on October 28, 2010

I thought an emocracy was government by melodramatic teenagers.
posted by Abiezer at 6:09 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I hope this stays too. I want to finish reading these links.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:10 PM on October 28, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - metatalk is an option, let's appreciate this nice post and maybe talk about it?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:13 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Let's just all agree to never, ever use the term "e-mocracy" again and call it a day, okay?
posted by reductiondesign at 6:20 PM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've been living in Calgary for a little over 3 years now, and up until now have despaired that I was living in the backwater, redneck capital of Canada. If everyone else knew that Calgary was actually a deliciously welcoming and diverse meritocracy, they were hiding it pretty well. I was sure that there was no way MY candidate, the academic, non-white, least conservative candidate had any chance up until the night of the election. Immediately before the live results started turning in Nenshi's favour I saw a wave of Facebook status updates expressing their support for him, from a wide range of likely and unlikely sources. The one that stuck out the most was a simple "Go Nenshi Go!" from a former coworker who, while waitressing, had made sure every night to remind the hosts not to give her any "brown" tables. And none of the other staff, including management, showed any signs they were bothered or surprised by this. Not that that should have been a surprise, as at least one member of management had already expressed that we weren't interested in hiring non-whites either.

Not that I'm not delighted, but I'm still a bit afraid that this is some kind of joke, or that most Calgarians have never seen Naheed and have a deep, previously unexploited love of the colour purple.
posted by rosken at 6:31 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Rob Ford on CBC Radio One.
posted by Menomena at 6:31 PM on October 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

Favorite double post evar.
posted by mazola at 6:41 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Let's just all agree to never, ever use the term "e-mocracy" again and call it a day, okay?

How about emo-cracy? e-mockracy?
posted by ODiV at 6:57 PM on October 28, 2010

Everyone should check out Menomena's link to the Rob Ford interview. It's comedy gold!

(*quietly puts Toronto condo on market*)

posted by spoobnooble at 7:12 PM on October 28, 2010

As the creator of the first calgary mayor thread, if a deletion keeps this one alive, I'm all for it.
posted by Alex404 at 8:14 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, if this one's sticking around...

Sure, the guy is the first Muslim mayor in Canada, and I think, of a major city anywhere. One thing that needs to be pointed out to those of you who didn't have the fun of living in Calgary during the campaign is how little that mattered here. There were a couple of media mentions when Nenshi headquarters was vandalized on September 11, but it's hard to avoid mentioning religion in connection with that. There may have been a day of election mention of the significance if Nenshi was elected, but that's about it.

I literally wasn't sure what religion he held until the day of voting when I Googled it for the sake of curiosity. And I'm a gigantic municipal politics nerd. I'm sure a large portion of the electorate didn't know his religion, and didn't care. Certainly no one cared enough to think it would sell papers, and we even have a trashy conservative tabloid to try it. (Hell, they actually endorsed him, which caused massive cognitive dissonance amongst me and my lefty colleagues at a meeting that day.) None of the campaigns thought they could gain an advantage by challenging his religion - ask Keith Ellison about that one. It was never Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim; it was Naheed Nenshi, a professor or Naheed Nenshi, a Harvard grad or Naheed Nenshi, social media guru. And for that I'm just so proud of my fellow Calgarians.

On the social media side, the important thing social media did wasn't getting Nenshi from 8% support to 40% support in a month; it was getting him to 8% support. At the start of the race in June, the clear walk-away winner was alderman Ric McIver, a classic Calgary conservative who had a huge war chest and had spent the last three years (arguably all nine years on council) campaigning; always voting No on spending bills, showboating from time to time. By July, the race was McIver, Barb Higgins (a former news anchor for 22 years with massive name recognition) and then trailing, a huge herd of a dozen candidates; some jokes, but half a dozen reasonable candidates, including three former aldermen, a provincial representative and a couple of nonpolitical candidates with strong backgrounds, one of whom was Nenshi.

The online work the Nenshi campaign did from June to mid September got him known as the favoured candidate amongst a lot of the cognoscenti; social media types, sure, but also policy wonks and activists and so on. The other thing the online work did was enable Nenshi to put up policy; face it, buddy's a professor and a nerd. No candidate can mail out a dozen three page policy briefs to everybody, or buy ad time for four minute videos discussing the policies. But online, it's free, and the Nenshi campaign put out a massive amount of policy. The other candidates mostly put out single policy documents that had less text than one of the dozen Nenshi documents. So the wonks got what they wanted from Nenshi, and everybody could see there was substance there.

By the time anybody who wasn't a total geek started caring about the race in late September, a poll showed McIver 43%, Higgins 28% and Nenshi 8%. This was enough to shift the angle from McIver vs Higgins and a bunch of doomed losers into a three way race; Nenshi's social media and policy approach helped make him an interesting candidate, which didn't hurt. As he became one of the frontrunners, he started getting a much larger chunk of press, which of course moved him in the public eye, which he took full advantage of to really build momentum. I'm sure it didn't hurt to have a few thousand extra Facebook friends, but the big move in the campaign was getting enough buzz to distinguish himself from the dozen losers at the back of the pack; in October the only time anyone outside of the three leaders got press is when they dropped out to endorse one of the big 3.

I just hope he governs as well as he campaigns, and that the rest of council works together.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:31 PM on October 28, 2010 [11 favorites]

Well I for one am happy Calgarians will finally be able to feel some pride in their City and pat themselves on the back.
posted by Hoopo at 9:35 PM on October 28, 2010

Sure, I'm moving to Toronto in 10 days (well, the 'burbs) and you guys go and install an arch-rightwing mayor. *sigh*
posted by 1000monkeys at 9:59 PM on October 28, 2010

Can someone from Canada explain how Toronto went from HippieTopia to RARARGFAGHAHGA Land?
posted by GilloD at 10:18 PM on October 28, 2010

I'm Canadian and originally from Toronto, and I don't get it, GilloD.
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:28 PM on October 28, 2010

Everyone should check out Menomena's link to the Rob Ford interview. It's comedy gold!

(*quietly puts Toronto condo on market*)
posted by spoobnooble at 7:12 PM

Link, please? :)
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:30 PM on October 28, 2010

Can someone from Canada explain how Toronto went from HippieTopia to RARARGFAGHAHGA Land?

Look at this map
. The purple part, which voted overwhelmingly for Anyone-But-Ford, is almost entirely made up of the City of Toronto proper - the downtown core that was its own municipality with its own government prior to a highly contentious mid-90s amalgamation with that thick belt of Fordian blue. The purple part is the place most of us think of when we think of Toronto.

The blue part is the part that made Ford mayor. It's predominantly suburban and, in recent years, extraordinarily reactionary politically. It's nicknamed the 905 Belt (after its area code, with the purple part being the 416), and it was responsible for electing Mike Harris' social-safety-net-gutting, service-downloading "Common Sense" Revolution of a Conservative provincial government in the mid-1990s and is one of the sort of swing regions keeping Stephen Harper's Cavalcade of Proto-Fascist Assholes in a minority position of power.

The truth - which has now been so vividly illustrated electorally - is that the 905 Belt has at least as much in common politically with suburban Calgary as it does with downtown Toronto, much as downtown Calgary has just as much in common politically with downtown Toronto as it does with suburban Calgary. (This is based in part in my seven years of field research as a Torontonian - 1996-2003 - and the subsequent seven years as a Calgarian.)
posted by gompa at 10:40 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

And while I'm yakkin' . . .

skwt, this is a beautifully composed post and I don't mean to criticize, but I feel obliged to mention that you missed a key piece of Nenshimania analysis. Written by one of Mefi's own, no less. *ahem* Here it is:

Cowtown No More (from last Saturday's Globe & Mail)

So, yeah, I just self-linked there. Feel just a little bad about it, but it seems warranted. And as penance, here's the Nenshi family's recipe for samosas, which I can attest from personal experience are absolutely awesome.
posted by gompa at 10:45 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sure, the guy is the first Muslim mayor in Canada, and I think, of a major city anywhere.
I'll hazard a guess Karachi's had a few :p
posted by Abiezer at 10:48 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Link, please? :)

Right here!

I am applying for 3 Toronto grad programs but oh my gooooooooooooooooood* I'm not so sure anymore.

*To be read like this.
posted by Menomena at 11:06 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've listened to CBC Radio since I was a little child. Yes I've had my fair share of problems with CBC journalists at times; yes I've occasionally had to question their interviewing strategies; no I haven't always been happy with their coverage. But I've always had respect for public broadcasting and journalism and that clip really makes me want to a) scream and scream and scream b) cry for my Toronto friends and c) fuck my grad school plans and move to Calgary (I'm in Ottawa, where things got slightly better because we finally got rid of Skeletor... ahem, er, Lex Luther... ahem, er Larry O'Brien... But I need to move out of my home city and go somewhere else for a while).

Are there any film studies or cultural studies grad programs in Calgary? Please oh gawd tell me there is.
posted by Menomena at 11:13 PM on October 28, 2010

Ha, my mistake, gompa. Looks like a good read.
posted by skwt at 11:16 PM on October 28, 2010

And Menomena, honestly, I'm not living in Toronto at the moment, but don't let Ford scare you away. I'm sure it's still a great city to live in and will be for a long time to come.
posted by skwt at 11:20 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll hazard a guess Karachi's had a few :p
Thanks, Abiezer. I consider myself appropriately schooled. I meant (but ethnocentrically, didn't say) in the Western world.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:52 PM on October 28, 2010

I did realise, Homeboy, so of course only pulling your leg. Though actually we have had Muslim mayors in some of our big towns in the UK, like Mohammed Iqbal in Leeds; not an elected position there mind, so still makes Calagray pretty special.
posted by Abiezer at 12:19 AM on October 29, 2010

So special I have spelled it in a unique fashion.
posted by Abiezer at 12:20 AM on October 29, 2010

I was just about to post something jokey about having had Muslim mayors in Lahore for as far back as I have been alive. But I see Abiezer has beat me to it. :) I'm curious whether it's true for even "the Western world," though. Certainly is for North America.
posted by bardophile at 4:29 AM on October 29, 2010

Look at this map.

Off-topic, but seriously, colorblind people trying to vote in Canada must be screwed.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:15 AM on October 29, 2010

we finally got rid of Skeletor... ahem, er, Lex Luther... ahem, er Larry O'Brien...

Those are good! I used to go with Diamond Joe Quimby, myself
posted by Hoopo at 8:17 AM on October 29, 2010

Since this one looks like it is sticking, I'll just echo Homeboy Trouble and say that Nenshi's religion and ethnicity played no role at all in the campaign. He ran a campaign of ideas, and while his use of social media was certainly a factor in getting those ideas out, I think it was that willingness to do "politics in full sentences" rather than sound bites that made the difference. At least, I want to believe that is it.

Nenshi was also everywhere during the campaign - city events, candidate forums, anything where he could engage even small groups of people to meet them and talk about his ideas. Which what it is supposed to be about.

He faces some huge challenges ahead - a big budget shortfall, large expectations, and two-thirds of the council are returning members of the horribly dysfunctional one with entrenched attitudes and ideas about how things are supposed to work. Relationships with city staff and council have been rather adversarial for some time. And Nenshi is only one vote of I wish him well, like him a lot, but am trying to temper my expectations. We voted for someone with a very different style from the usual, but the question remains whether he can change things enough to allow his advantages/strengths come to the fore, or if he will become captured by the system in things-as-usual model.

I know Toronto has a fairly large city council - how big a group does Ford have to work with, and what kind of people are they? Does Ford have a council that is on board with his style/attitudes, or one that will be more adversarial to his agenda?
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:35 AM on October 29, 2010

I live in the 905 now and can still scarcely understand how Ford was elected; I can see why people might want other people to think he might be elected, but to actually go through with it?... Listening to that CBC interview for the first time, I was beyond appalled. It should be an interesting few years.

As to council, many of them (a majority, I believe) can't stand him. It's one of the few silver linings of the whole election; at least he won't be able to just ram through all the idiotic changes he's been promising the last few weeks.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:17 AM on October 29, 2010

I listened to the CBC interview as it happened, so to speak, and I honestly thought at first that it was someone was playing a prank, pretending to be Ford. I just couldn't believe anybody would be that rude, disrespectful - and incoherent- on the country's preeminent current affairs/political radio show. I guess he figured he'd show what a regular (Family?) Guy he was, and thumb his nose at the chattering classes of the Annex & Cabbagetown; not realising or caring that it was being heard 'coast to coast and around the world'. It's since blown up into a major incident on AIH: most people flabbergasted at him, others suggesting that it was AIH attacking Ford simply by airing the interview.
posted by Flashman at 9:51 AM on October 29, 2010

Stephen Harper's Cavalcade of Proto-Fascist Assholes

Anyone need a band name?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:23 AM on October 29, 2010

Anyone need a band name?

I actually imagined it more like the '70s-style variety show they air on an infinite loop on the cheap staticky TVs in Hell's waiting room. Up next: Stockwell Day just barely fails to jump a pit of eternal hellfire in his souped-up jetski! And Vic Toews skydives without a chute onto a poison-tipped minaret! Plus Jim Prentice is fed in small chunks to mutant polar bears! All this and more on this week's Cavalcade! That sort of thing.
posted by gompa at 10:29 AM on October 29, 2010

Somebody please make that happen.
posted by sauril at 10:35 AM on October 29, 2010

Look at this map. The purple part, which voted overwhelmingly for Anyone-But-Ford...
The blue part is the part that made Ford mayor. It's predominantly suburban and, in recent years, extraordinarily reactionary politically. It's nicknamed the 905 Belt (after its area code, with the purple part being the 416)....

Gompa, you are mistaken. The "905 Belt" is the larger region outside the area shown on your linked map. That entire map is all "416" area code. "905" is places like Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughn, Richmond Hill, Markham, Pickering, etc, which do not appear on that map. Much of the 905 region is indeed heavily conservative and votes that way in provincial and federal elections.

The blue regions on that map that voted heavily for Ford are the old municipalities of Etobicoke, York, East York, North York, and Scarborough which are a mix of upper and lower income neighborhoods. Those are only called "suburbs" by the most downtown-bound of downtownites (i.e. hipsters). They may seem far away if you are limited to foot and bike travel and don't like to spend more than 20 minutes on the subway, but they are all part of the same city. This region traditionally votes Liberal, with the exception of a couple of central NDP strongholds. See this map from the 2008 federal election (click down to Ontario, then Toronto). All of amalgamated Toronto and even the inner parts of the 905 voted Liberal/NDP. The last provincial election was a sweep for the Liberals in an even larger region centered on the city.

This Toronto election was the end result of a lot of resentment and anger that had built up over the years against Miller's administration. Some people are now trying to hold up Miller as some kind of blessed saint of progressive politics, but in the 7 years he was mayor here he didn't do a whole lot. His ties to the unions finally blew up in his face in the last couple years over his perceived roles in the city worker strike and the ongoing drama of "the people vs the TTC union" which was big in the local press.

If there was any candidate who embodied resentment and anger, it was Rob Ford. Even those who hate him have to agree with that. Rob Ford is a resentful, anger-filled person and that won him the election. There was no liberal-vs-conservative battle in this election. Every candidate except Miller's current deputy mayor, Joe Pantalone was running with policies well to the right of center. Joe Pants only managed to place a distant third because several candidates above him dropped out. The only other contender, Smitherman, had some financial ethics scandals clouding his past that he never seriously addressed during the campaign. There was no strong, clear leader among the entire field of candidates. There was no polarizing issue that grabbed the public's attention and distinguished the candidates. So the people voted for the resentful, angry man.
posted by dodecapus at 10:42 AM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gompa, you are mistaken.

Well, shoot, been away from Toronto too long I guess. Mea culpa on that - didn't realize the amalgamated boroughs of N. York, Etobicoke and Scarborough were in the 416 and haven't been very Tory since Mike Harris' days. (Entirely too much of my perception of Ontario politics was informed by Mike Harris. Went to high school in his home riding and went to Ontario universities and lived in Toronto through the long years he was strangling both of them. Not quite a justification for the inaccuracy, but an explanation at least.)

So while my description of the 905 remains mostly accurate - once you get past amalgamated Metro, there's an awful lot of Conservative incumbents, including our illustrious finance minister, and the politics are reactionary - it doesn't at all describe what happened in this municipal election.

I hereby retract. I stand by the Cavalcade pitch, though. That show would be gold.
posted by gompa at 11:02 AM on October 29, 2010

Sure, the guy is the first Muslim mayor in Canada, and I think, of a major city anywhere.

Ahem. Some countries even have a Muslim president.
posted by sour cream at 12:22 PM on October 29, 2010

Gompa: Nice article in the G&M. Sorry I missed it last Saturday, and I'm happy you self-linked. Cheers.
posted by bumpkin at 9:53 PM on October 29, 2010

I just listened to the Rob Ford interview. CWAA! I cannot believe a city that I love, that I am proud to be my city of birth, a city of diversity, arts, and culture, could elect such an ignorant boob to be their mayor. For shame! He was so disgustingly rude and unprofessional during that interview, and it's not like he was caught off-guard, his people BOOKED it ahead of time. He sounds like familiar characters down south on the far right: spouting off the same talking-points that make him sound "reasonable" to the average Joe (Yeah, cut spending. Stop the gravy train!), but he had no clear way of explaining how, exactly, he is going to do that. And he conveniently and abruptly ended the interview when he was asked anything of further significance to Toronto (public transportation is HUGE to Toronto).

I bet (hope) he ends up getting recalled, before he destroys the city I love.
posted by 1000monkeys at 3:19 PM on October 30, 2010

Has this one been posted yet? (Re: Rob Ford).
posted by 1000monkeys at 3:43 PM on October 30, 2010

Sorry to keep this going but the man won't stop
posted by Menomena at 8:12 PM on October 31, 2010

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