Nenshi on the election, his mandate and a 'nasty' campaign

Tired. Elated. Victorious. Those adjectives describe Mayor Naheed Nenshi on Tuesday morning when he stopped by the Calgary Eyeopener studios to talk about Monday’s vote.

Naheed Nenshi was elected to a third term as Calgary mayor on Monday, taking 51.3% of the vote

Mayor Naheed Nenshi celebrates after being elected to his third term in Monday's election, after facing a stiff challenge from his main rival, former Alberta PC Party president Bill Smith. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Tired. Elated. Victorious.

Those adjectives describe Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on Tuesday morning when only a few hours removed from winning his third term with 51.3 per cent of the vote — and after only a few hours of sleep — he stopped by the Calgary Eyeopener studios.

He talked to host David Gray  about Monday's vote, his vision for the next four years and that controversial tweet sent by a senior member of the Calgary Flames organization. 

Below is an abridged version of that conversation.

Q: How are you feeling this morning? Congratulations, by the way.

A: Of course, happy. I can exhale a little bit after this really nasty, awful political campaign. I think we can all say, thank goodness that's over.

Q: Was it nasty? Was it awful? I heard from the person who came in second yesterday, Bill Smith, who did, after all, win 43 per cent of the vote ... he called the election sporting and sparring. You don't agree with those words?

A: No, I don't, because that was always the challenge in this election, is that as I said many, many times, this isn't fun and games, this is people's lives. When you throw off a number like, 'Ah, I'm going to cut the budget by 200 million bucks next year,' that's not sporting. When you say, 'Ah, I'm just going to maybe re-think the Green Line and risk $3 billion in funding, that's not sporting either. This is deadly serious stuff. It matters. It matters for people's lives, and Calgarians deserved, and got in many ways, a real conversation about the future of the city, and that's what makes me happy.

Q: What was this about in the end? What was the difference maker in your mind?

A: Ultimately, people rejected that kind of divisive politicking.... That kind of frain that the mayor is too big for his britches and really said, 'no, we want to focus on what we actually need to do as a city to sustain this fragile economic recovery.' They rejected misinformation and ultimately they voted with hope and optimism for what is possible for our community.

Q: Those 168,000 people who voted against you also sent a message last night. What's the message you got from them?

A: You know, the city is certainly divided in some ways and yes, part of it is the result of some misinformation that got repeated over and over again, and we've got to clarify that with people. But it also means we've got to be thoughtful as a city council to understand that we represent everybody. And I think the big story of this election … is again Calgarians rejecting partisan politics in municipal elections. All 10 of my colleagues who were running for re-election got re-elected. And this council, despite its scrappiness and prickliness, got a lot done. We passed two budgets unanimously. I could not find a budget that was passed unanimously by a city council in more than 60 years.

Q: Let me share with you a message that came in [Tuesday morning] here at the Eyeopener. This is from a listener, Neil, who voted for you in 2010 and 2013 but didn't last night. He says, 'I fear the message Nenshi heard is that he won and he should continue as in the past. The real message, given the power of incumbency, was that Mr. Nenshi must listen to those who voted against him. He'll need to build bridges to tackle the business tax pain that will be on us soon.'

A: That's a fair point and I've been saying that for more than a month. That issue of the business tax, particularly with the downtown vacancy rate, is by far the biggest issue facing the city going forward.… And so, we've got to work together on this stuff, we've got to get past that divisiveness, that us-versus-them frain this debate was about.

Q: You'll have 10 incumbents. You know where they stand on the various issues, you've worked with them before. You'll have four new faces. We had one on the show just a few moments ago, [Jeromy] Farkas from Ward 11, who is convinced that city council is full of secrecy. In fact, he referred to a chamber of secrets. This is someone you're going to have to work with on a regular basis. Are you OK with that?

A: Of course. He worked incredibly hard for two years for that role. And when I look at the four new faces, I know all four of them. Two of them have master's degrees or PhDs in urban planning. One of them is one of the most dedicated community volunteers I've ever met. And Mr. Farkas has worked his buns off for this, more than I've ever seen anyone work for city council. And you know what? We'll all learn together, and I think it's going to be just fine.

Q: Let's talk about learning. A message came out last night from someone senior with the Calgary Flames, [communications director] Sean Kelso. It was a tweet, then he deleted it soon fairly soon after. But, of course, it was captured by many. He says, 'I can't believe it YYC, having Nenshi as mayor is worse than Donald Trump being president, hashtag arrogant.'

A: I have no idea who this person this is. I've never met him, and boy, what an out-of-touch tweet to send. But you know what? This whole ridiculously dramatic conversation about the arena plopped into the political debate, it was really clear what was going on. If you really want to have some fun, check out one of the senior VPs of [Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation] twitter feed for the last several weeks. Nasty personal attacks on me, retweeting weird right-wing websites, making no secret of the fact they wanted to get rid of me. Everyone has got their own opinion, they're allowed to do that. It's going to make it a little uncomfortable when I'm there helping the Stamps lift the Grey Cup next month, but it is what it is. Basically, as I've said from the very beginning on this issue, the city has never left the table. We're not going to leave the table. And it really is up to Calgary Sports and Entertainment on what kind of a conversation they want to have going forward. I don't anticipate I'm going to get any phone calls from [NHL commissioner Gary] Bettman or [CSEC president Ken] King today or next week or the week after. But maybe some months from now they'll find that they're ready to come back and have a conversation with us.

Q: One last note. There'll be lots of policy questions in the days ahead, lots of things to talk about, but there was a fair bit of frustration over the way the election ran last night. Are you going to look into that?

A: At some point, sure. We had a brand new team, a brand new city clerk and returning officer, a new lead of the election for the first time in many years and council gave them a really, really tough mandate — massively increase voter turnout. And I think, by and large, they did that. The advance polls were amazing, and it kind of fell apart in the last two hours. But everything up to that went really well. And I just want to say, even if people were frustrated, No. 1, a special thank you to the election workers, they did an amazing job… And No. 2, I know it was frustrating, and I apologize for that. But standing out on a beautiful fall evening, and being able to cast your ballot in a world where it is so dangerous for so many to be able to do that … it's a beautiful thing. And I want to thank everybody who came out and voted.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener