Yesterday, Calgary elected a new mayor. His name is Naheed Nenshi. I met him almost a decade ago when he was a participant in a forum on building the creative economy I helped catalyze with CEOs for Cities, Carol Coletta. Here's one of his first interviews since being elected.
Nenshi, 38, is a professor at Mount Royal University. He graduated from the University of Calgary, where he was president of the students' union, and holds a master's in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. He's also Islamic; his parents immigrated to Canada from Tanzania. Here's how one account in the Canadian press summarized it:
[W]hile much was being made of Nenshi being what's believed to be the first Muslim mayor in a major Canadian city, experts, supporters and even leaders in Calgary's Muslim community were downplaying the role Nenshi's faith played in his election.
"I think it's an overblown situation," said Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy, the founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.
"He's a Muslim. Yes, well so what? Why does it have to be identified that we have a Muslim mayor? I think the most important thing is we have a new person who has been elected by Calgarians."
Still, Soharwardy couldn't deny the impact Nenshi's election will have on Calgary's cowboy conservative stereotype.
"This sends a very strong message to our country. Calgary is the first major city in North America who has a visible minority mayor, an immigrant son," he said. "I think it shows we are not a redneck city. It shows that we are not biased, that we are not just Christian, we are multifaith and everyone has an equal opportunity."
The issue of religion did not really enter into the campaign debate which pitted Nenshi, a 38-year-old business professor who harnessed the power of social networking, against the perceived front runners -- established alderman Ric McIver and former TV news anchor Barb Higgins.
When asked to confirm that Nenshi was Muslim, one of his supporters replied, "Barely," at his victory party on Monday night.
Here's a campaign video: