Mohamud Noor and Rep. Phyllis Kahn will be competing for Minnesota House Seat 60B in November. The similarities end there.
The two are different candidates in all other aspects. Kahn, 76, is a veteran of Minnesota politics with more than 40 years of experience. She has beaten other challengers in the past. She won 77 percent of the votes in the last election.
Noor, 36, has held various government jobs, including an information-management position with the state of Minnesota. He is required by federal statue to resign from his state job after announcing his intentions for partisan office. He is the current interim executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community. Noor ran for the Senate in the same district and narrowly lost. He has been recently appointed to fill the school-board vacancy caused by an unexpected death of Hussein Samatar.
The challenges each must overcome to prevail in November are immense — and differ as much as their backgrounds. The district includes Cedar Riverside, parts of southeast and northeast, as well as the University of Minnesota main campus. The core constituencies are seniors, Somalis and students, in no particular order.
Phyllis Kahn established a reputation as an avid supporter of the arts and has a reformist mindset toward the gambling industry as a legislator. She played a leading role in the Legacy Amendment, which included allocating part of the state sales tax to fund arts, heritage and preservation projects. She was been a leading voice in the debate to put a casino at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The core constituencies
Although these are important issues for the state, neither of them directly addresses core constituencies’ priorities. The core constituencies have different priorities among themselves.
A chief complaint among students at the University of Minnesota has been rising tuition cost. It was a problem when I was student, and it continues to be one. The campus community is on edge over increasing security incidents. Kahn has presented no specific plan in her role as legislator to address student priorities.
Seniors in the district struggle with housing. For example, Somali senior citizens in Cedar Riverside receive rental support from the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. They have been complaining about a pesky policy that prevents them from having an extended leave to visit their relatives in Africa. Rep. Karen Clark from neighboring district in the south was making inquiries on their behalf, not Phyllis Kahn, in the 2013 session.
Kahn had been absent in the other two critical issues of K-12 education and health care for the Somali community. When a group of Somali community leaders came to the Capitol with secondary-education concerns during the 2013 session, Rep. Jim Davnie from another neighboring district in the south led the charge to expand Collaborative Urban Education Program (CUE) to train Somali- speaking teachers, not Phyllis Kahn. Rep. Diane Loeffler from a neighboring district in the north had been more engaged in efforts to promote adult mental health and children’s autism as part of larger effort to build a healthier community.
Kahn points to unparalleled seniority and early support of Abdi Warsame for Minneapolis City Council but recent legislative deliverables of the role speak louder and clearer to constituencies than political mechanics.
Noor has challenges of his own despite great turnout from the Somali community at the announcing event. Harvesting sufficient votes, organizational challenges and resources top the list.
First and foremost, Minnesota House Seat 60B is no Minneapolis City Council Ward 6, where a concentrated Somali vote made an enormous difference in Warsame’s victory over an incumbent who held the seat 12 years. Noor must appeal to the majority community en masse or stitch together a coalition to make up for the difference.
Noor also must overcome organizational challenges. There are less than 60 days before precinct caucuses and there is no visible organizational infrastructure to get delegates to the convention and perhaps effectively end the race.
Some of Noor’s ardent supporters from the last campaign have not come out in support, suggesting a lack of enthusiasm in the current campaign. It remains to be seen how some of the unions — such as MAPE that represents state employees, the Minneapolis Teachers Federation and other core DFL groups like Take Action — deploy their resources.
Mohamud Noor has been unfairly attacked by critics for advocating against the amendment to ban same-gender marriage in Minnesota. Critics have lit-dropped at mosques during Friday prayers attacking him. Facebook battles have been raging since speculation of his running started. Noor has yet to provide a clear response to these critics.
Battle could go beyond convention
Others in DFL circles are hesitant and probably won’t pledge support until the endorsement convention because of concerns over his decision to pursue the vacant school-board seat. The concern here is lack of milestone-driven strategy.
The battle between Mohamud Noor and Phyllis Kahn could go beyond the endorsement convention. It could be a drawn-out fight with or without an endorsement.
Ultimately one of them will prevail. Mohamud Noor prevailing would add momentum to the rising political stock of the Somali community, while Phyllis Kahn prevailing would dash the feeling in the Somali community of being in the zone.
Jamal Abdulahi is a state director with Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) and chairs the Somali Caucus of the DFL. He is currently a policy fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. He focuses on political development of New Americans. He can be reached at Abdu0037@umn.edu. He can also be followed @fuguni.
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