A ‘Real’ Candidate becomes a ‘Real’ Voter: Coffee with Derek McKenzie

I’m going on my seventh year of roaming the halls of the University of Calgary. As a Masters student I don’t get out much … around campus that is. Yesterday was the first time in a long while I had headed out of my office and over to Mac Hall, a hub for undergraduate students – they gather there for the essentials of university including: books, bathrooms, burgers, beer, babes, and coffee (by the buckets full).  Derek McKenzie, recent mayoral race dropout, was going to meet me at Tim Horton’s for an afternoon caffeine rush before his 3 o’clock class.

McKenzie had set up this meeting with me nearly a week ago. It was his way of responding to my previous blog. He wanted to show me his real self. He wanted Calgarians to meet the single-dad behind the politician. When my TweetDeck lit up with notification that he had called the race quits Monday morning I was nervous my first blog interview would be cancelled – but he very much still wanted to share his experiences with me. That excited me; this guy, busy guy, still wanted to make time for a young Calgary blogger.

Just as I began getting thirsty Derek appeared – right on time. His striped scarf, glasses, and bag certainly helped him play the role of the student well. He picks up the tab for my peppermint tea and his XL coffee. Conscious of the time Derek suggests we walk and chat through the university. He doesn’t want to be late for his class. I make a brief note to self about his dedication to anti-tardiness. Something rare among political types; in my experience many forget that your time (and in this case his teacher’s time) is just as valuable as their own.

As we walk Derek explains to me that he is definitely the quirkiest on out of his network. His “real life” circle of family and friends were taken by surprise at his decision to run for the mayor’s seat – but he explained they quickly came to terms with the fact that this is just something Derek would be crazy enough to do. His mom finally took him seriously when the website went up and flyers went out. His son was over the moon to see his dad in the Herald … but not excited enough to make it his show and tell at school.

“I’m a weekend dad. Campaigning takes away from the only time I have with my son,” says McKenzie. His decision to pull out had a lot to do with that. At this point in his son’s life he needs to be around as much as possible. “It wasn’t an easy choice. I didn’t sleep this weekend.”

He did very much want to lead this city though. We walked through the crisp September air (where the heck did the sun go anyways?) and he explained that the job of the mayor will be a challenge, one that he was up for. “The mayor has to be willing to herd,” McKenzie explains. He believes that the job of the mayor isn’t just another voice on council, but the voice that is able to bring all the voices together, make tough, but firm, decisions on split-votes, and “herd” aldermen together in to a strong, reliable team.

“The future of Calgary has always been important to me. I truly wanted to make a difference in City Hall and affect the future. The future depends on what we are doing now.” At the point in our conversation I saw Derek McKenzie: dad, show his true colours. His investment in the city’s future was pure, genuine, passionate, and came from a place that only a parent could conjure.

McKenzie’s platform had a strong focus on sustainability. His work in the past for the PC Party included drafting energy policy, his current research on water, and his future ambitions to look at air all demonstrate to me that he is invested in a sustainable future, or at least in understanding it. He wasn’t just trying to get attention by using a sexy word. “I take the train to university. I carpool every morning.”

Derek expressed how lucky he felt to be a part of the race the last several weeks. In regards to my quest to find the real people behind the candidates, he said he had been given the opportunity to do exactly that. “My opinions about some candidates have definitely changed.” He was surprised by the kindness of some and annoyed by the sliminess of others. “I got to see most of the people behind the politicians.” The ones that didn’t seem to have a real person behind the political face did not impress him.

So what’s next?

McKenzie has decided to support Naheed Nenshi for mayor. “I will be supporting him in whatever capacity I can, and I will definitely be attending future forums”. Derek sent an email to Nenshi’s office early Monday morning and quickly received a reply from the man himself. Derek feels that Nenshi would provide the change this city needs and did see a real person, with real passion behind the politician.

Personally McKenzie feels as if he has become more polished, and more prepared for the world of politics. “I’ve gotten to sit down with so many people, businesses and boards. This opportunity has allowed me to meet people and to get a sense of what it is to speak and truly get your ideas across in an effective way to a room full of people. “

At this point Derek and I are sitting in his classroom. It’s beginning to fill up and the clock is counting down. With a few minutes left he tells me about a friend he wrestled with on his high school team. “He said once that people never really care where you’ve been; people care about the relationship they have with you. That’s what politics is all about for me; relationships with people. I want to understand people, and I want them to understand me. That’s how you make a great city greater.”

After a line like that it was no surprise to hear that McKenzie had put his name forward for the nomination of the PC MLA candidate in the constituency of Calgary-Varsity. He sent an email with his intentions to run immediately after his email explaining he would not be running for mayor. What do I think about this? It’s great. After sipping a hot drink with this ex-mayoral candidate it is clear to me he is passionate about more than winning an election, but the ‘real’ Derek McKenzie is passionate about making our world a better place.

We raise our drinks, “Cheers!” and I’m gone … back to my office.

This ‘real’ mayoral candidate drop-out is now a ‘real’ voter, ‘real’ Nenshi volunteer, and ‘real’ hopeful for provincial nominee.

My search continues … inspire me candidates. Do you eat pizza on Friday night? Get nervous before a speech? Why are you running and why has your life led to this point?

CR xo


(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on September 22, 2010)

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