The Minneapolis City Council seat representing Ward 6 — which includes the Seward, Cedar-Riverside, Philips West, Elliot Park, Stevens Square, and Ventura Village neighborhoods — has been empty since March, when Abdi Warsame resigned from the council to become executive director of the Minneapolis Housing Authority.
That move has left residents in the ward without a voice on council as it dealt with the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the subsequent push by some council members to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.
Ward 6 residents will get a chance to fill the seat in a special election on Aug. 11, the same date as the state’s primary election, though early voting has already begun. Under the city’s ranked-choice voting system, voters are able to select three of the listed candidates in order of preference.
Whoever wins the seat will fill the remainder of Warsame’s term, which expires in 2021. In doing so, they’ll represent some of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, a place that’s central to both the East African and Native American community in Minneapolis. Between 1990 to 2018, just one of the Ward’s neighborhoods, Cedar-Riverside, doubled in population, fueled largely by Somali-American arrivals. The ward is also home to some of the city’s poorest residents, where the average household income is almost $37,000 less than the rest of the city.
A crowded field
At the deadline, 12 candidates filed for the election, though community activist Mohamoud Hassan later dropped out. That leaves 11: AJ Awed, Abdirizak Bihi, Michael P. Dougherty, Sara Mae Engberg, AK Hassan, Nebiha Mohammed, Suud Olat, Jamal Osman, Alex Palacios, Joshua Scheunemann and Saciido Shaie.
The best known might be Hassan, a former community organizer who is currently the Vice President of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The 29-year-old Ventura Village resident said his time in the park system, which has recently been at the center of the city’s homelessness crisis, would be an advantage on the council, and he has been endorsed by Hennepin County Commissioners Angela Conley and Debbie Goettel, OutFront Minnesota and Our Revolution Twin Cities, the local organization that spun out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.
Also among those running is Attorney AJ Awed, 29, a fellow with the American Arbitration Association who said he helps people facing eviction in Hennepin County Housing Court. Awed calls himself a “high school dropout-turned law school graduate,” and said he’s running to give his neighbors in Stevens Square and people throughout the ward the opportunity to build and rebuild their life like he did.
Alex Palacios, 30, who lives in Phillips West and works for The Aliveness Project, said they threw their hat in the ring because they can bring an actionable plan for better health and safety to the ward. Palacios is endorsed by Stonewall DFL, the LGBTQ Caucus of the DFL, as well as OutFront Minnesota, which endorsed both Palacios and Hassan for Ward 6.
Foreign aid advocate Suud Olat, 29, lives in Elliot Park and said he’s running because of his experience in helping acquire aid for hungry people in East Africa with the Bono-funded One campaign. “We’re having the same issues of poverty and hunger here,” said Olat.
Thirty-six-year-old Jamal Osman, who lives in Riverside, believes the skills he gained over 15 years in social service work for the affordable housing nonprofit CommonBond Communities would be an asset when it comes to one of the most critical issues facing the council: addressing homelessness and housing issues in the ward.
Rounding out the rest of the race is Joshua Schuenemann, 25, who lives in Stevens Square and is self-employed through his own political consulting firm. Abdirizak Bihi, of Cedar-Riverside, a longtime community organizer who specializes in job training; Nebiha Mohammed, 37, who works as a program director for a health care facility and lives in Cedar-Riverside; nonprofit organizer Saciido Shaie, 38, of Elliot Park; Michael Dougherty, 50, a funeral director and owner of Thomson-Dougherty Funeral Home who lives in Phillips West; and Sara Mae Engberg, who is running under the banner of Humanity Forward, the organization that grew out of Andrew Yang’s presidential candidacy.
Concerns about housing
As homeless camps have sprung up across Minneapolis, the issue has become a major one in the campaign, with multiple candidates talking about their own experiences with being unsheltered. “Every time I grab my keys, I’m grateful,” said Palacios, one of the candidates who has said they faced bouts of homelessness themselves.
Many of the candidates said the city needs to prioritize creative solutions to the problem — like an idea to introduce communal, dorm-style living options advocated by Council Member Cam Gordon — instead of “cookie-cutter” developments. “There’s just not enough housing,” said Osman, adding that the city should also do more to help the people on the Section 8 housing waiting list.
Though Minnesota state law blocks cities from passing rent control ordinances, Awed said he believes there are exceptions for charter cities like Minneapolis, and he supports capping annual rent increases at 3 percent. Hassan mentioned other anti-gentrification measures, like land trusts.
Due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, more people in the Ward are also losing housing. Olat said he thinks the council should structure a tenant’s bill of rights to give people facing eviction more of a voice in the process, while Hassan said investing more in the Minnesota Housing Trust Fund, which provides temporary rental assistance, would help stabilize housing.
To abolish or not abolish MPD
The new Ward 6 council member will join the body right as its members wrestle with the idea of dismantling the city’s police department in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police. Part of that process includes the Minneapolis Charter Commission, the body that has to sign off on a proposed ballot measure asking voters to change the charter so the council can establish a new public safety division.
Here are candidates in unequivocal support of dismantling MPD: Hassan, Awed, Palacios, Osman, Mohammed, Engberg, Bihi, Scheunemann, and Shaie.
Palacios said that if they were elected and tasked with forming a new public safety system, “I will not impose a vision until I have run it passed by as many people as possible.” They also said they’d set up community “safety town halls,” and push for whatever would make “Black and brown people, LGBTQIA+ folks, homeless folks dying at the hands of the police” comfortable with the city’s public safety workers.
Awed has also emphasized community involvement in the process of setting up a new public safety operation for the city, saying he would swap out any member of any oversight board that has law enforcement experience and who might be prone to “defend the shield” at all costs. “It’s hard to have real internal affairs investigations with those individuals,” siad Awed, who has also advocated partial disarmament of police, as in when officers respond to non-violent calls.
Hassan is also in favor of dismantling the department and starting with something new. “I do believe the Minneapolis Police Department is broken and cannot be fixed,” he said.
Olat agrees that MPD needs reformation but stopped short of saying the charter should be amended and the department disbanded — mainly because he’s not sure what it accomplishes, he said. “Changing the name is not enough,” said Olat, “we need to abolish the systemic racism within the department.”
Dougherty said he’s the “red herring” of the group, in that he believes MPD needs reform but strongly disapproves of defunding the department. “I realize it’s broken,” he said. “I believe we have to address a lot of issues.”
He believes the best way to do that is by trusting the leadership of law enforcement experts like current Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. He also said forging ahead without a police department — and without a clear plan for a replacement — is a recipe for crime and chaos.
Questions about residency
Questions over the actual residence of candidates have also come up in the race, a topic that was prompted by a FOX 9 report and raised during a recent League of Women Voters candidate forum.
According to the Fox 9 story, Osman, who in the same forum said he’d been living in Ward 6 for over a decade, was issued traffic tickets in 2016 and 2019 that list a Maplewood address. Fox 9 also reported that people at the address provided in Shaie’s candidate filing offered conflicting answers about whether she lived there. Later, Shaie’s campaign told the station she moved after being threatened but did not provide an address.
State law dictates that a city council candidate has to live in the ward or city a month before filing to run for an open seat.
In a conversation with MinnPost, Osman maintained he lives in Riverside, and Shaie told MinnPost that she moved in with her uncle in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood two months before filing, and was living there when she filed to run. Shortly after, she moved to the apartment she lives in now in Elliot Park. She said someone in her campaign was attacked while canvassing, and that, because of the attack, she doesn’t feel safe disclosing her exact address. “I don’t think that story was fair,” said Shaie of the Fox 9 report.
During a candidate forum hosted by the community newspaper Mshale, Awed, when asked how long he’d been living in the ward, called the inquiry a “gotcha question.” He moved to Stevens Square on June 1, and specifically made the move because he said Somali-American community members told him he should run for the Ward 6 seat.