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Mayor of Graz wins World Mayor Prize

Elke Kahr, Mayor of Graz, Austria, has been awarded the 2023 World Mayor Prize for her selfless dedication to her city and its people, first as city councillor and mayor. For Mayor Kahr politics means serving her fellow citizens with humility. Her decision to share much of her salary with people in need has attracted worldwide admiration. The World Mayor Prize has been awarded since 2004 by the London-based City Mayors Foundation. Previous female winners include the mayors of Athens (2005), Cape Town (2008) and Ancona (2018).

Elke Kahr, Mayor of Graz, with World Mayor Prize

Elke Kahr with the World Mayor sculpture, which was conceived by Tann vom Hove (London), designed by Manuel Ferrari (Amsterdam) and made by Kaspar Swankey in his Berlin studio since 2004

The World Mayor Project

April 2024: The World Mayor Project was established in 2004 to discover, portray and honour exceptional mayors from all parts of the world. The Project has never been about finding the ‘best mayor’ in the world. It would indeed be ludicrous to attempt to do so. Mayors of megacities and those of small towns, mayors of affluent cities and those leading struggling communities, mayors of places at peace and those in war-torn regions require very different mindsets and qualities. Some city leaders can plan for the future with confidence while others struggle to provide basic amenities and safety for their citizens.

Female winners of the World Mayor Prize

Women Mayors who received the World Mayor Prize in previous years.

Dora Bakoyannis, Mayor of Athens, Greece received the 2005 World Mayor Prize. Dora Bakoyannis, Mayor of Athens, was not only strongly and passionately supported by her community but also by thousands of voters in other European countries, North America and Australia. Her achievements as Mayor of Athens, include the successful staging of the 2004 Olympics and her fight against terrorism. DETAILS


Helen Zille, Executive Mayor of Cape Town, South Africa and leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance, was awarded the 2008 World Mayor Prize. Commentators supporting her nomination said that in a country devoid of present-day role models, this amazing lady was making a difference and giving people hope: “Her only equals are Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in Southern Africa.” DETAILS


Valeria Mancinelli, Mayor of Ancona, Italy, was awarded the 2018 World Mayor Prize. Under her leadership, Ancona, the capital of the March region on the Adriatic coast, has enjoyed strong economic growth. When Mayor Mancinelli took office in 2013, the all-important shipbuilding sector was facing enormous difficulties, which badly affected the many small businesses in the city. The newly elected Mayor was determined to revive the industry, that can trace its history back to Roman times. DETAILS


Elke Kahr, Mayor of Graz, Austria

Tann vom Hove, Senior Fellow at the City Mayors Foundation described Elke Kahr as a role model for people, not just politicians, who want to contribute to their communities without looking for personal gains. “During the 2023 World Mayor Project people from other cities in Austria and Europe have written to us, saying ‘we wish we had a mayor like Elke Kahr’.”


In 1958, former American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt told the United Nations General Assembly that human rights begin in communities where ordinary people seek equal justice, equal opportunity and equal dignity without discrimination. “Eleanor Roosevelt would have commended Mayor Elke Kahr for her work in Graz,” believes Tann vom Hove.


Selection of Commendations

Commendation: “Elke Kahr, the Mayor of Graz, is a shining example of leadership and dedication. Her leadership has transformed Graz into a model of sustainability, inclusivity, and cultural richness. Under her guidance, the city has blossomed into a vibrant and environmentally friendly community. Mayor Kahr's dedication to supporting local businesses, green initiatives, and the arts has enriched the lives of Graz's residents and made the city a wonderful place to live. Her commitment to listening to the people is commendable. Graz is fortunate to have such a dedicated and visionary leader.”


Commendation: Was mich besonders an Elke Kahr beeindruckt, ist Ihr Herz für Menschen, die in sozial prekären Verhältnissen leben. Ihre Menschennähe und Ihr Engagement für soziale Gerechtigkeit machen sie zu einer herausragenden Persönlichkeit, die auf das Wohl der Gemeinschaft bedacht ist. Frau Kahr ist  eine einzigartige Persönlichkeit, die sich konsequent für die Würde und das Wohlergehen aller einsetzt, vor allem für jene die am stärksten gefährdet sind. 


Commendation: “Elke Kahr’s respect for people extends to other cities as well. Her relations with former Yugoslav countries are warm, especially with the mayors of Slovenia, which lies a few kilometres to the south of Graz. She reached out to cities all over Europe, and her reputation made others reach out to her. The ambassador to Sweden, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam visited her, making connections reaching across the world. When Romania’s Schengen application was rejected by Austria, the Romanian ambassador came to Graz to smooth ruffled feathers. The large Slavic diaspora in Graz and Kahr’s support of them has made Graz a diplomatic anchor point between the Balkan and Austria.”


Commendation: Elke Kahr gilt weit über die Grenzen der Stadt Graz und über Parteigrenzen hinweg als vorbildliche Bürgermeisterin. Ihre Politik ist serviceorientiert im besten Sinn, wobei sie stets danach trachtet, die Situation der Grazer Bürgerinnen und Bürger zu verbessern und stets für sie dazusein.


Frau Kahr arbeitet unglaublich viel und diese ihre Arbeit ist äusserst bürger*innennah. Exemplarisch sei der Mieter*innennotruf genannt. Dass Bgm. Kahr (wie auch die beiden Stadträte ihrer Partei) von ihren Bezügen lediglich einen durchschnittlichen Facharbeiter*innenlohn zum Leben behält, alles was darüber hinausgeht für soziale Zwecke spendet, ist ebenso vorbildlich.


Viele Menschen in Österreich würden sich ebenso eine*n Bürgermeister*in in ihrer Stadt, ihrer Gemeinde, wünschen. In Salzburg wählen wir im Frühjahr 2024 eine*n neue*n Bürgermeister*in und ich hoffe, diese*r nimmt sich an Frau Kahr ein Beispiel.


Commendation: As an immigrant citizen of the great city of Graz, I have never been prouder to call myself a proud and happy citizen of Graz since Elke Kahr was elected mayor of our city.


I highly recommend her for World Mayor of the Year because she is a very authentic politician who is driven by the need for social justice and building a fair society where no one is left behind, regardless of their socio-economic background. Elke Kahr embodies humility, unity, impartiality and charity.


Graz is a more open, tolerant and inclusive society thanks to Kahr’s politics of inclusion. Bravo to our World Mayor of the Year! ALL COMMENDATIONS



Essay by Elke Kahr

Quotes from Mayor Kahr’s essay: Personal contact with people, with the citizens of Graz, has always been the most important aspect for me, as a local politician. I spend as much time as possible in all parts of the city. I visit people in their homes and hold surgeries. It is important to talk to people face-to-face, to learn about their problems and concerns. I don't need studies to know where the shoe pinches.


It's not always just about the big stuff. Small things matter – missing access, noisy neighbours, someone needs a stair lift or some building repairs are overdue. I often inform myself on-site. If there is a conflict, I make sure to hear from both sides. But sometimes the people I meet only want to chat or get their concerns off their chests.


We all need and are entitled to human rights, an intact environment, education and work. And above all, we must strive for peace. Unfortunately, today, as we all know and see, living in peace cannot taken for granted. We urgently need a disarmament of weapons, but also of language. It is important to talk to each other openly, to listen to one another, to respect other opinions and not to be righteous.


My message for my city is ‘Together we are Graz’. My city will have a glorious future if we stop labelling and categorising people. FULL ESSAY


The Elke Kahr Interview

Question: The climate crisis not only affects the environment but also the social fabric of a city. What strategies are you pursuing to ensure and improve the social well-being of the population of Graz in times of climate change, especially concerning vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children and socially disadvantaged people?

Mayor Kahr replies: Many aspects of climate protection have positive effects for everyone. By protecting green areas, parks and woods from further sealing of the soil surface, we create value for everyone. Other aspects like the transition in heating systems demand our support for those who don’t have enough money to meet new (legal) requirements. That’s where we need to make sure that electricity and heating are affordable for everyone as we support the creation of renewable ways to provide energy.


Question: As a local councillor in Germany, I would like to know what councillors in other municipalities can learn from Graz.

Mayor Kahr replies: Local councillors can always learn from each other, no matter how different their cities and backgrounds are. I think one area Graz excels is the broad range of educational and cultural institutions and sports facilities. At the same time, we provide affordable services and housing for people with lower incomes. To give just one example, people who can’t afford the regular annual ticket for public transport can acquire an annual ticket for the city’s network for 50 Euros.


Question: Is liberal democracy compatible with your style of communism?

Mayor Kahr replies: If you are talking about human and civil rights, an open society, free elections and the rule of law, then yes. If you consider a neo-liberal approach to economics as an integral part of this style of democracy, I disassociate myself from this aspect. I’m convinced that it is important to have public control or ownership of healthcare, education and other services people need daily. FULL INTERVIEW


World Mayor Awards

In addition to the World Mayor Prize, the City Mayors Foundation has bestowed three awards


The World Mayor Jury Award was conferred on Manuel De Araújo, Mayor of Quelimane, Mozambique, for his defence of democratic values in his country and his ambitious plans and initiatives to make Quelimane one of the most sustainable cities in Africa.


The World Mayor Friendship Award was conferred on Stefan Fassbinder, Mayor of Greifswald, Germany, for his and the city’s cooperation with and support for communities in Ukraine, Poland and Brazil. He, together with many of his fellow citizens, has also provided generous assistance to refugees arriving from war-torn Ukraine.


The World Mayor Community Award was conferred on Tony Keats, Mayor of Dover, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, for his extraordinary service to his town and its people since 1996. He has shown that mayors from small communities can become role models for civic leaders everywhere.


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