MRU prof considering mayoral candidacy
by Selina Renfrow
If Facebook fan pages were a popularity contest for Calgary’s mayoral race, Mount Royal University associate professor Naheed Nenshi would be winning with 710 fans supporting his run at press time.
The problem is, Nenshi isn’t running for office. At least not yet.
“I’m still thinking about it,” is Nenshi’s official answer at the moment.
Nenshi didn’t start the “Draft Naheed Nenshi for Mayor” Facebook fan page, nor does he officially sanction it beyond saying he is flattered and humbled by the support.
Richard Einarson, a friend of Nenshi’s, created the page after a discussion with friends about the upcoming civic election. Einarson suggested the page to friends – some of whom know Nenshi personally and others who don’t – and watched it grow in a matter of weeks.
“I’m not surprised that a lot of people think that he’d make a great mayor, because obviously I do as well, but I am a little surprised at how quickly it has grown,” Einarson said.
As it grows, Einarson actively encourages fans to invite their friends and spread the word. The fan page has garnered local media interest and Einarson shares those links on the Facebook page, as well as links to columns Nenshi has written in the past.
Aaron Ellard, a former Mount Royal University student and a local business owner, joined the group to support his former instructor.
“I thought he was a great instructor,” Ellard said. “I also read a couple of articles he had written in the Calgary Herald and I just think that he is an interesting person to run for mayor.”
Although he is taking a break from writing his Calgary Herald column, Nenshi recognizes that his ideas have been able to get out through his media commentary and the work he does with civic advocacy groups the Better Calgary Campaign and Civic Camp. As he considers a potential campaign, Nenshi is also trying to determine if there are better candidates out there.
“I’m busy talking to people, gauging if there’s any support there,” Nenshi said. “And also what’s important to me is I need to figure out if there is a great candidate out there that I can support. Depending on the results of those conversations, I will have an announcement to make.”
Currently, there are two official candidates in the mayoral race: Paul Hughes, chair of the Calgary Food Policy Council and Alnoor Kassam, who finished a distant second to Dave Bronconnier in the 2007 election. Other names have been mentioned but none have made any announcements beyond taking it into consideration. There is also a “Draft Ric McIver for Mayor” page with 312 fans.
Einarson he said hopes that the support of the Facebook fan page will translate into actual votes, as low voter turnout is an issue in municipal politics.
“My hope is that a lot of the people who it does help to get engaged are younger people who perhaps haven’t voted in municipal elections,” Einarson said. “Having good, solid, leaders come to the table will help and hopefully this race will have a few candidates that will present different viewpoints. It gives people something to get engaged in.”
Low voter turnout is also an important issue for Nenshi and he wants to figure out why people feel disengaged from their communities.
“I think talking to people, really understanding how they see their own communities, how they see their own power and influence within that community…How we can help them feel empowered and how we can help them understand their vote, actually makes a difference in their lives,” he said.