Nenshi nears victory in Calgary mayor's race

Naheed Nenshi has emerged as the likely mayor-elect of Calgary, after a see-saw start to election night.

38-year-old business prof poised to become city's first Muslim mayor

Naheed Nenshi has emerged as the likely mayor-elect of Calgary, after a see-saw start to election night.

Naheed Nenshi supporters rally at his campaign headquarters on 11th Avenue S.E. ((Bryan Labby/CBC))

At 11 p.m. MT, Nenshi was leading with 39 per cent of the vote, representing about 72,000 ballots.

Trailing in second was veteran alderman Ric McIver, with less than 60,000 votes and 31 per cent of the vote.

McIver told his campaign headquarters that if the results continued to come in as they had been, Nenshi would be mayor. He said he wished Nenshi well and urged his supporters to do likewise.

McIver said he was heart-broken and disappointed with the result, but urged others to hold their heads up high.

"We ran the most positive campaign in this election, bar none, and nobody can say different than that," McIver said.

Longtime news anchor Barb Higgins gave a concession speech after polling stations reported she had 27 per cent of the vote.

"I jumped in late, so I knew it would be a challenge," Higgins told CBC News. "It took some time to get the right team together."

Higgins led for much of the night, and the race between the top three wasn't more than a few percentage points off for several hours.

At 11:10 p.m., 166 polling stations had reported out of a total of 241. The number of votes counted began to near 200,000.

Joe Connelly was in fourth, with 1,428 votes or one per cent. Bob Hawkesworth was fifth.

Wayne Stewart, Jon Lord and Craig Burrows each netted between 500 and 1,000 votes.

Stewart, Hawkesworth and Burrows had already dropped out of the race, but their names still appeared on the ballots.

Calgary 'a different place': Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi emerged as the likely mayor-elect of Calgary with 39 per cent of the vote. ((CBC))

At about 11:30 p.m., Nenshi spoke to his raucous, purple-clad supporters.

"Today, Calgary is a different place than it was yesterday. It's a better place," Nenshi said to cheers. "Not because of me, but because of you."

Nenshi — a 38-year-old Harvard-educated business professor at Mount Royal University — thanked his supporters and the other candidates, and said his "purple army" wanted to revitalize public conversation in the city.

"It was about talking to the person next to you on the bus, it was about taking an extra minute with the cashier at Safeway," said Nenshi, talking about working to build a Calgary that is "innovative, risk-taking" and "strong and proud in its diversity."

He said his likely victory meant that Calgarians are ready for change.

He listed the 2011 budget, a tunnel project at Calgary International Airport, an LRT extension in southeast Calgary and the reform of city council and city administration as his four immediate priorities.

Nenshi's campaign made extensive use of social networking, with Nenshi even launching his candidacy with a message on Twitter. His campaign featured a customized iPhone app for supporters to download.

He translated his online brochures into 10 different languages, lending to the perception that he found a base of support among new immigrants.

'I don't shy away from the colour of my skin, I don't shy away from my faith ...'— Naheed Nenshi

He also translated his platform video and recruited volunteer interpreters who speak 23 different languages, including Chinese and Arabic.

Nenshi, a Muslim and a visible minority, was subjected to some vandalism to his campaign headquarters last month when a brick was thrown through the front window.

At the time, he said he had received emails suggesting people should be afraid of having a Muslim mayor.

"I don't shy away from the colour of my skin, I don't shy away from my faith, I don't shy away from my background or my education or my experience," Nenshi told CBC News after his victory speech. "All of that is part of the crazy mix that makes up Naheed, and all of it is part of the crazy mix that makes up Calgary."

One of the biggest controversies Nenshi faced in the run-up to election day was a squabble with Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson.

Nenshi raised questions about why Calgary's police budget increased by 23 per cent over the past five years, when the number of officers only increased by 11 per cent.

This drew a rebuke via a news release from Hanson, who called Nenshi's information "inaccurate."

Extra ballots delivered

The municipal election office had to scramble late Monday afternoon to get enough ballots out to the polling stations.

Voters wait to cast ballots at Coventry Hills School in northeast Calgary at 7:35 p.m. ((Meghan Grant/CBC))

Returning officer Barbara Clifford said any station that had a 22 per cent turnout by 4:30 p.m. was sent an extra 800 ballots.

She said she didn't hear of any stations running out of ballots, but that some might have been coming close.

"So we took that step, identified the voting stations, got ballots packaged, actually called out the West Direct courier fleet that was on duty and they started delivering ballots for us," Clifford said.

"Now of course it takes a long time to cover the number of places they had, spread around the city."

Ward 14 in the southeast received its extra ballots at about 8 p.m. Clifford said there are always anomalies at polling stations, even when there's a low voter turnout.