Calgary elects Canada's first big-city Muslim mayor

Tue Oct 19, 2010 1:11pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - An academic and political newcomer staged a come-from-behind victory over a conservative favorite in Calgary's civic election on Monday to become the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city.

Naheed Nenshi, a politically progressive, Harvard-trained business professor, began the six-week campaign for the top job in Canada's fourth-largest city as a long shot. But he used social media and frequent debate appearances to great effect to storm past better-known names in the late stages.

The 38-year-old's victory -- dubbed the "Purple Revolution" for the color of his campaign materials -- bucks a common view that Calgary is overwhelmingly white and conservative.

The city of 1.1 million people, up from 900,000 a decade ago, is the center of Canada's oil industry. Its most famous politician is former mayor and Alberta premier Ralph Klein, remembered as a staunch right-winger and budget-cutter.

"It really draws the attention of the rest of the country that this is not a Ralph Klein conservative by any stretch of the imagination," said University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young.

"The fact that he's a visible minority, the fact that he's had this progressive voice in the media, the kind of campaign that he ran -- he is very visibly different from people's perceptions of Calgary."

The vote is unlikely to affect federal politics, where Alberta remains a stronghold of the ruling Conservatives.

Young said Nenshi had taken a page out of U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign book by reaching out to young voters through Twitter and Facebook and positioning himself as the face of a movement promising change.   Continued...