Dover mayor shortlists for the World Mayor Prize
Tony Keats loves being mayor of Dover, Nfld. He has served the residents of Dover – which has a population of less than 700 people – on town council for the past 31 years, the last 27 as mayor.
That commitment to public service is compounded by his two other jobs. Keats has worked at Canada Post for 28 years. He has also worked four nights a week as a home care provider for more than 30 years. Add all that together and he might seem like the world’s best mayor. And, if the voting goes his way these next few months, that might not be just an honourary title.
Keats has made the shortlist of 25 mayors nominated for the 2023 World Mayor Prize. The prize goes to mayors and cities who are – according to the World Mayor website – “committed to form friendships and partnerships as well as co-operate with towns and cities at home and across borders.”
To say Keats feels overwhelmed by making the shortlist would be an understatement.
“I am humbled by all of this,” Keats said. “It would be nice, to be honest, for a small rural community within our country to succeed at this. It would give you that little bit of jump in your step to know that we’re doing something right and people appreciate it.”
2023 World Mayor Prize
The City Mayors Foundation, based in London, U.K., has awarded the World Mayor Prize and Awards since 2004. Now held every two years, the World Mayor Project recognizes the most outstanding mayors from across the globe.
Past honourees have included mayors from Athens, Greece (2005); Melbourne, Australia (2006); Cape Town, South Africa (2008); Mexico City, Mexico (2010); Calgary (2014); and Rotterdam, Netherlands (2021).
The mayors joining Keats on the 2023 shortlist are equally impressive. They also include local government leaders from some major metropolitan cities:
- Tim Keller – Albuquerque, U.S. (pop. 560,000),
- Burkhard Jung – Leipzig, Germany (pop. 601,000),
- Kizō Hisamoto – Kobe, Japan (pop. 1,522,000),
- Vitali Klitschko – Kyiv, Ukraine (pre-war pop. 2,900,000), and
- Ekrem İmamoğlu – Istanbul, Turkey (pop. 15,500,000).
The list of 10 finalists will be published at the end of October 2023. The winners of the 2023 World Mayor Prize and Awards will be announced by the end of this year.
The odds might seem stacked against Keats. After all, Keats is the mayor of a town with some 700 people. He is competing with mayors whose cities have populations in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. The World Mayor Prize organizers have taken this reality into account. People can submit their votes to their favourite mayor by email – for example, email@example.com.
But organizers want voters to also include personal anecdotes in those emails. To allow mayors from smaller communities to compete on equal terms with those from large cities, the judging values the conviction of supporting statements more than the number of votes.
Role of the Mayor
When Keats was told by his town manager that she was nominating him for the World Mayor Prize, Keats thanked her and then pretty much put the notion of winning behind him. But once he received notice of making the Top 25 shortlist, his perceptions changed.
Keats began thinking about his years of service, and what he has been doing over those years. Coming from a small community, as one might expect, the mayor plays a major role in the community.
“You get all these emotions – to say that I was shocked or surprised or overwhelmed and grateful all at the same time was an understatement, to be honest,” Keats said. “I’ve never thought that it would get to that level.
“I’m just so grateful. It shows that somebody from a rural community in Canada can be on that list and can be recognized in a way that even from its peers.”
When contemplating what it was that got him into the Top 25, Keats gives credit to those who voted for him over the past three decades. The honour of being re-elected over and over, Keats said, shows voters believe he is doing something right. And that is pleasure enough when it comes to serving one’s community.
“You know that old cliché: you’re getting on council to make your town better,” Keats said. “That hasn’t changed. It doesn’t matter what size you are or where you’re located next to – that’s what we’re here for.
“I see us as the first level of government because we’re the closest to the people. We see what is needed in our communities. We work hard to make sure our communities succeed and prosper and move on for the future.”
Busy, But Still Having Fun
Keats said the idea of competing against other mayors feels “a little bit weird” to him.
But if he was going to champion himself to the World Mayor voter, Keats said he would want people to know he is just a simple man from Dover. Yes, he does have some name recognition across the country from the time he served on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. But he wants everybody to know he’s “just a common person,” no different than they are.
After all these years on council, and even considering all the daily responsibilities, Keats said he still enjoys being mayor. For one thing, Keats enjoys being out with his fellow residents.
Every day there is some community event or activity going on. When COVID-19 made community interaction more difficult, Keats found a way to continue meeting the emotional needs of his residents. Keats would regularly go on the town Facebook page to made sure “the kids and the residents and the parents” had something to do in their houses.
Keats started his “Cooking with the Mayor” program on YouTube and Facebook. He also started a podcast for municipal concerns, which is called “The Chambers.” Keats brings somebody on the podcast at least once a month to discuss municipal issues of concern, not only in his community or province but across the country.
World Mayor Opportunity
Keats said, like any award, it is an honour just to be nominated, but he did take a moment or two to consider what it would mean to him to be named world’s best mayor.
If he did win, Keats says he would use it as an opportunity. He would first look back on everything he has been a part of accomplishing these past several decades. But also, he would think about all the things he still wants to accomplish. This goes for not only within Dover, but also across the sphere of municipalities throughout the world.
In a nutshell, Keats said such an honour would mean his peers and the people that voted for him understand him and give him a thumbs up.
“It says you’re doing well, and we applaud you, and we want to appreciate what you’re doing. And I think that’s an accomplishment enough to be honest with you,” Keats said. “It’s not about awards or anything else. It’s about just being that little pat on the back every now and then to say that you’re doing a good job and thank you.” MW
✯ Municipal World Executive and Essentials Plus Members: You might also be interested in Sean’s other article: Local government champions look ahead to new experiences.
Sean Meyer is Senior Editor for Municipal World.
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