World Mayor essays

In a series of personal essays, the finalists for the 2023 World Mayor Prize describe the reasons that motivated them to enter politics, the challenges they face as mayors and how they envisage their towns and cities to develop and prosper in the future. They stress the importance of connecting with people and building partnerships
Essays by: Mayor of Dover | Mayor of Graz | Bürgermeisterin von Graz | Mayor of Greifswald |Oberbürgermeister von Greifswald | Mayor of Oliveri | Sindaco di Oliveri | Mayor of Quelimane | Mayor of Utrecht | Burgemeester van Utrecht |

Essay by
Tony Keats
Mayor of Dover, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

December 2023: I am so moved to be amongst such great mayors and such wonderful communities, to know that so many others have spoken such wonderful words about me and how I impacted their lives over the years in some way or another is so inspiring. You must understand that I serve in this role with great love, respect, and compassion for what the office stands for. I feel so blessed and fortunate to be able to serve not only my community but to also represent many others when it comes to voicing the overall concerns and expectations of us all. You have to realize that when we enter politics we do not enter alone, most of us have families, spouses, children and parents, and it’s usually because of them we want to do our best, and it’s because of them we work so hard to make sure we can make positive choices and decisions.

My family and growing up
Our families are the ones who are usually behind the scenes, they encourage us and are sometimes our cheerleaders, and for that, we are so proud and thankful. I have been told several times over the years that we, municipal leaders, must have thick skin, it probably would not hurt but most of all I believe that we must have understanding, patience, compassion and great communication skills.

I was adopted at the early age of three months to a family who loved me dearly, and who also instilled great values that are much needed and used often. My parents believed in having the right to vote and the right to choose who you wanted to represent you in various levels of government. They believed that the person not only represents the community, the province or even the country but also you as an individual. I remember growing up with not only one election support poster in our windows but often two as my parents did not agree on the same candidate or party they wanted to vote for. My parents always ingrained in me that the choice is yours and just because you did not agree with each other and had different views you still have a right to choose, and as a result of that it drew me closer to politics and my privilege to serve my community.

While in grade school, I felt the passion of making sure to do my part, to stand up and to be counted. The feeling of serving was even stronger at that age, from being class representative to moving on to later becoming student council president, this position allowed me to push forward the rights of the students, to express opinions and to make sure that the students' voices were always heard.

A teacher once told me many years ago to be somebody and this phrase has always resonated with me. I believe he was telling me to go forward and do something with my life, reach others in a way that would encourage them to also make a difference in the world, stand up, be heard, and represent to the best of your ability. Since then, I have worked hard to ensure all are treated the same, all get what is needed, and all can move forward successfully, not with a handout, but with a hand up. To have respect and how to show respect to others no matter what, as well as not being afraid to voice your opinions and take a stand for what you believe in.

Moving back to Dover
After my post-secondary education in the business field, I came back to my home community, working three different jobs at the same time, however, I still felt something was missing and there was. I knew I needed to do my part by getting involved and standing up for my community. Community means more than some houses, people, or jobs, it means a sense of place and pride, it’s where one belongs, it means Home.

Serving on a small rural municipal council is generally a volunteer position as opposed to a paid position in much larger urban municipalities. Due to this, some of us must work outside of the political system and in the private field. For the past thirty-plus years I have been employed with two different full-time jobs, all while serving my community on council and various organizations at the same time.

Working life
I have been working with a Canadian Crown Corporation (Canada Postal Corporation) for the past 28 years and love the everyday involvement with the public. In this role, I am challenged with introducing new products and services daily but the most enjoyable has to be the ability to communicate with the citizens, this is where I am at my best, chatting with people and learning from them is so rewarding.

In my other full-time employment position, I am the lead support supervisor for persons with disabilities, in this position I manage a full-time staff and the needs of persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There are often challenges but at the same time, you see progress being made day to day, yielding positive results which is very rewarding. As a result of these jobs, I find that various aspects carry over into how I manage or even relate to the challenges within our community of Dover, and at the overall municipal government level. I believe that we need to be able to relate to the issues and the challenges we face in our communities because that is what often gives us the best perspectives to carry forward in our lives and our careers.

Serving the community
To say that my many years of serving on our community council were all sunny days and roses is so far from the truth. Over the years I have faced many adversaries, from my early days of being a young man who some thought didn’t have enough experience or was too young and didn’t live life yet to be able to serve and contribute to the position. I had to face those negative comments head-on, I had to work extra hard to win over those within that mindset.

Let’s not forget that change is not easy for anyone and to try and make those changes to a “let’s not fix what is not broken” attitude would be hard but was very much needed, we needed to change the way we looked at ourselves, the way we operated, and the way we had others perceive us. I along with other positive colleagues were up for this challenge of moving our little town forward. Many other small communities would look up to us and wanted to be in the same place we were, we were on the right path, it was hard at times but the challenges were worth the results, and our community is now one to admire and one to be proud of.

The community accomplishments were many over the years, having annual events such as our town summer festivals, adding to our tourism experience to include The Dover Fault Lookout Site, the geological history, our resettlement stories, the Digby B18 Bomber that crash landed in our community during WW2 and making sure to tell that story full of bravery and courage that our residents had to endure. We also tell the story of Nick and Diane, who are the two love birds that meet during those horrible moments of 911 and the attacks within the US. Nick and Dianne were two stranded strangers from different countries who just happened to be on the same delayed flight and fell in love during a visit to the Dover Fault Lookout Site in our community. We love telling their story and the meaning behind difficult times of love will always prevail.

Serving on the NL Municipal Association Board
I have learned so much while serving on the Newfoundland and Labrador Municipal Association Board in various roles, such as small towns director, vice president and later on into the role of president of the association. The time I spent on both the Newfoundland and Labrador Municipal Association Board and the National Municipal Board was an eye-opening experience. To serve in those roles and to be able to travel and speak to so many wonderful community leaders not only from my province and country but also from around the world is something I am grateful for. In those roles I came to understand that the problems of small communities such as mine and others are not so different from those of larger ones, the problems are often the same and the solutions are often similar. Rural and urban communities are alike in the sense of discussing such topics and issues like clean fresh drinking water, safe communities, infrastructure, broadband/telecommunications, public transit, affordable housing and let's never forget climate change and climate sustainability.

I remember a moment when speaking from the perspective of a small municipality really helped the larger ones, to bring ways of doing small-scale environmental climate change adaptation programs that can be adapted to help various sizes of communities, small, medium and larger ones. During my time I brought forward the opportunity for rural municipal caucus and urban municipal caucus to come together and talk about similarities by working together and coming up with solutions that would help both.

Being involved in larger municipal associations gave me the platform to add my voice to those issues and that of many others. Throughout my time on those boards, I would come to promote, foster, and support the many voices that are needed around the table, these being the voices of youth, women, seniors and the disabled, whom we often find ourselves speaking on their behalf but we need to make sure their voices are heard. We need to always remember that when elected, we serve everyone and it is of the utmost importance to recognize this.

Working in Bolivia
During my time spent in La Paz, Bolivia working on one of the many outstanding international programs with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I saw first-hand women getting elected to councils but their terms would usually not see completion due to being forced out and replaced by men. This is wrong and should not happen. As a whole, we have worked very hard to make sure we drafted a good education and training plan toolkit so their association could move forward with knowledgeable planning, we helped them maintain and strengthen their municipal government systems, and we also made sure to bring in the better involvement of women, youth, and entrepreneurs for various travelling trade shows and fairs, this would not only allow them to bring in differences of expertise but this would also give them an opportunity to develop and strive for a more professional and financial independence.

Speaking for those who are silenced
The unrest and conflicts happening within various nations around the world are troubling and heartbreaking, however, we must stand together and give support to those in need of our help and understanding. To say we live in peace is not always true, when we see others in such pain we also feel pain. We must speak louder and speak for those who are silenced and whose voices cannot be heard. We are powerful when we are together.

Small steps to protect the environment
My love for the environment and making sure we are great stewards of the land is something I am most happy about. We must protect it not only for us but for our children, grandchildren and their children. One of my greatest achievements was to get a provincial ban on grocery store plastic bags passed in our provincial legislature. This success did not come easy and it did not come overnight, it took time and it took precedence but it happened. To know that I played a meaningful role in helping our environment, even though it was a small part, makes me proud of my determination to see change happening for the betterment of our province and possibly others.

Looking back to 27 years as Mayor
I believe that we all put our names forward on ballots to serve our communities for mostly the same reasons, and that is to make our communities a better place to live, work, and play. Those words are so cliché I know, but so very true for us all. While writing this I took the time to look back over the past 31 years of serving on our municipal council, with the past 27 of those being in the Mayor’s chair. I can honestly say I have the same passion, the same love for our people, our home, and the same feeling to make a positive difference for the betterment of all. I only hope that by reading this essay and the many statements of support that were written on my behalf will leave you with the understanding that I believe in working hard and fighting for what matters. We are municipal. We are a community. We do this job because we want our communities to be better, and that is who I am.

Tony Keats' pages: Tony Keats wins World Mayor Award | Essay by Tony Keats | Commendations for Tony Keats | Conversation with Tony Keats |

Essays by: Mayor of Dover | Mayor of Graz | Bürgermeisterin von Graz | Mayor of Greifswald |Oberbürgermeister von Greifswald | Mayor of Oliveri | Sindaco di Oliveri | Mayor of Quelimane | Mayor of Utrecht | Burgemeester van Utrecht |

The City Mayors Foundation
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Tel: +44 20 8439 7978
The World Mayor Project was conceived in 2004 by the City Mayors Foundation to raise the profile of mayors worldwide and honour those who have contributed exceptionally to local and urban affairs. Mayors must carry out their duties selflessly and beyond reproach. The Project has no association with any city or organisation and is run on philanthropic lines. Any kind of revenue is NOT sought and will be rejected if offered. DETAILS

Winners of the World Mayor Prize since 2004: Edi Rama, Tirana (2004); Dora Bakoyannis, Athens (2005); John So, Melbourne (2006); Helen Zille, Cape Town (2008); Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico City (2010); Iñaki Azkuna, Bilbao (2012); Naheed Nenshi, Calgary (2014); Bart Somers, Mechelen (2016); Valeria Mancinelli, Ancona (2018); Ahmed Aboutaleb, Rotterdam (2021); Philippe Rio, Grigny (2021); Elke Kahr, Graz (2023) DETAILS