Sitting in a downtown bar on election night, surrounded by campaign volunteers, Naheed Nenshi said he had a brief moment to process what had just happened.
Watching the election results roll in on TV, Nenshi said he knew about five minutes before anyone else in the bar that he was Calgary’s new mayor.
“That was the moment at which I went, ‘OK, this is real,’” he says. “I’ve got work to do now.”
Around this time last year, the former Mount Royal University business instructor said he was campaigning for someone else to fill the mayor’s chair.
“I was sitting in my office at Mount Royal and one of the things that I had been working on at that time was, as a citizen, trying to get great people to run for council and little did I know that that would end up being me,” he explains.
After plenty of phone calls and even a “Draft Naheed Nenshi For Mayor” Facebook page, Nenshi said he was convinced he was the right man for the job. Over a pizza dinner with volunteers, he made the decision to throw his hat in the ring.
“My goal was pretty straight-forward: just introduce myself to as many people as possible and introduce the message to as many people as possible.”
A goal that was well met, according to political blogger and city hall observer D.J. Kelly.
“He knew right from the beginning that he didn’t have a huge amount of name recognition, not a big following,” Kelly says. “To go from there to international news story in less than a year is pretty remarkable.”
Political scientist Keith Brownsey says Nenshi worked hard to be everywhere he possibly could in the months leading up to the election.
“He came from virtually nowhere to win the mayor’s race against two well-established and very high-profile candidates,” Brownsey says, adding Nenshi’s campaign model may set an example for future elections.
While Nenshi and his team executed their strategy well, Brownsey says a large part of his win was timing.
“We were also at a unique point in history. We had a city that was ready,” he says. “I encourage other politicians to try and follow our model but I don’t know how easy it would be to replicate it.”
Now, a little more than two months since being sworn in, Nenshi is settling into the position.
“I think what’s surprised me most is I haven’t been all that surprised,” he says. “The job is pretty much what I expected to be.”
Although he has a list of goals, he says his main objective is to make city hall a better place for Calgarians to deal with.
“We have to ask ourselves every hour of every day, Is what I’m doing making life better for citizens? And if it’s not, I have to ask myself why I’m doing it.”