Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has decided to follow in the political footsteps of former Calgary mayor Ralph Klein. Nenshi, like Ralph, went into his first mayoral campaign as a dark horse but wound up winning three straight terms. Now Nenshi, again like Ralph, has decided to step up to provincial politics, starting with a run for a party leadership.

Neither showed any interest in party politics before taking the provincial plunge although both were believed to lean Liberal. Indeed, Ralph initially intended to run for the Liberal leadership but then decided to go where the power was. Nenshi’s campaign colour has been purple, a mix of the red and the blue.

Like Ralph, Nenshi is a formidable campaigner. He entered his first campaign late in the day at a time when a well-known alderman (as councillors were then known) was considered to have the job sewn up. This alderman, now provincial minister of municipal affairs, had been effectively running for a couple of years, and as a good friend of the development industry, had a massive war chest.

Nenshi’s campaign—dubbed the “Purple Revolution”—exploited adroit use of social media, an enthusiastic group of young campaigners, and creative guerrilla marketing tactics, to win the day. He became the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city. Calgary’s demographics and Alberta’s politics were changing.

Revving up for the leadership contest, Nenshi has gone after the UCP. He claims he was inspired to get back into politics over concerns about Danielle Smith’s party, calling it “immoral” and “dangerous.”

The Conservatives are responding in kind. One UCP cabinet minister linked him with Joseph Stalin while trotting out the old Conservative canard of the NDP as communist. Another went for the jugular, suggesting he’s cozy with Justin Trudeau. The head of Danielle Smith’s base, Take Back Alberta, resorted to crude personal insults. Nenshi lapped it all up, saying “It’s sort of funny that I’m two days into this job and we’re seeing people in the Conservative movement get really, really nervous.”

He is no doubt more concerned about the strong opponents he faces in the NDP leadership race. In addition to Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, are two former cabinet ministers: Kathleen Ganley, formerly Minister of Justice and Solicitor General and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs; and Sarah Hoffman, former Minister of Health and Deputy Premier.

Hoffman warms my heart. She’s a feisty, union-touting, capitalist-baiting, old school, social democrat. She has the fire of the CCF. Unfortunately that doesn’t warm the hearts of too many in this conservative province.

Nenshi is more the modern liberal. With a background in both practical and theoretical urban affairs, he is an excellent choice for an increasingly urban province. He has his 11 years of experience as mayor to combine with a degree in public policy from Harvard and years of volunteer work in civic affairs.

So who will I vote for? Hmmm. I’m normally not to keen on drop-in candidates but I’m willing to make exceptions for the right candidate. So I’m currently leaning toward the politician who I admired and voted for as mayor of my city.

… But there’s still three months to election day.

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