As floodwaters rose, Calgary mayor made his mark

Wed Jun 26, 2013 2:14am EDT
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By Nia Williams and Scott Haggett

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - By last Friday morning in Canada's oil capital, the scope of the disaster facing Calgary was becoming clear, and the reputation of the city's first-term mayor was rising along with the floodwaters.

As the two rivers in the city of 1.1 million reached new heights in the worst flooding the province of Alberta has ever seen, a growing list of neighborhoods were evacuated and the downtown home to Canada's largest oil companies was shut down as electrical substations failed.

In the chaos, Naheed Nenshi, the first Muslim elected to the office in a major North American city, was a ubiquitous presence - at media briefings, on Twitter, updating the status of city services, reminding Calgarians to stay safe and praising emergency workers. His well-timed jokes lightened the mood.

It was disaster management reminiscent, albeit on a smaller scale, of other North American politicians like New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani after the September 11 attacks and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the wake of Hurricane Sandy whose images were burnished by their performances in crises.

"As mayor (in these floods) I have three jobs," the 41-year-old Nenshi told Reuters in an interview sandwiched between media briefings, tours of damaged neighborhoods and visits to thank the city's thousands of volunteers.

"No. 1 is to make sure citizens have a lot of information on how to keep themselves safe. No. 2 is provide encouragement and resources to the real heroes. And No. 3 is to get out of the way and let people do their work. That's what I have been trying to do since the whole thing started."

The economic cost of the floods will likely reach into the billions. But Nenshi's response has won him the sort of national acclaim that eludes other big-city Canadian mayors these days.

Toronto's Rob Ford is under fire after two media outlets said they had seen a video that appeared to show him smoking crack cocaine (he says he does not smoke crack), while Montreal's Michael Applebaum has stepped down to fight charges of corruption.   Continued...

Naheed Nenshi, the newly elected mayor of Calgary, arrives at a meeting with Alberta premier Ed Stelmach in Calgary, Alberta in this October 21, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Todd Korol/Files