Kahn apologizes for statement about activist beaten at caucus

Phyllis KahnRep. Phyllis Kahn

DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn apologized for statements she made minimizing the injuries of an activist who was beaten and suffered a concussion earlier this month during a precinct caucus in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

The longtime Minneapolis representative is facing Minneapolis School Board member Mohamud Noor for the party endorsement in April. The race is one of the toughest Kahn has experienced during her 42 years in the Legislature, and illustrates the growing political power of the Somali community in Minnesota. That excitement soured on Feb. 4, when state Senate District 60 Associate Chair Ilhan Omar was beaten at the caucus after the meeting erupted in chaos.

“I oppose violence in any form,” Kahn said in a Facebook post on Thursday evening. “It has no place in our democratic process. I apologize for the statement I made minimizing violence. That was not my intent when I spoke and it certainly never has been my belief.”

Omar, who is a policy aide to Minneapolis City Council member Andrew Johnson, was later treated for a concussion after the beating. When asked about Omar’s injuries, Kahn was initially dismissive and questioned whether Omar had been seen by a doctor. Omar showed a MinnPost reporter the hospital papers detailing her concussion last week.

“I participated in the process when it was much more unfriendly to women than that. I did have the equivalent of a death threat,” Kahn told MinnPost last week in a follow-up article about the caucus violence. “Once that has happened, what’s a punch?”

Omar said she was threatened multiple times throughout the caucus night. She also says Minneapolis City Council member Abdi Warsame, who is supporting Kahn in the race, told her boss she shouldn’t show up to the event or there could be trouble for her. Omar is widely believed to be a Noor supporter, though she denies any public preference in the race.

There’s an ongoing city investigation and a workplace complaint against Warsame, who has declined to comment on the matter. A source close to the investigation confirms that Johnson told city officials Warsame made those statements to Johnson.

When reached Thursday evening, Kahn explained that she had gotten a significant amount of advice that she should apologize for the remark. But the veteran lawmaker also said that her statement was true.

“Anyone who says it isn’t true should have a death threat,” Kahn said. “I would like no one to be able to refute that unless they’ve had a death threat.”

Kahn said she discussed the comment with House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, who advised her to apologize, but the veteran lawmaker said she wasn’t asked to do so. Kahn also said it wasn’t a caucus position or a “caucus demand.”

But Kahn was facing pressure from DFL activists to apologize for her statement. In a Facebook post, SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo said the comment minimized violence and went “beyond electoral politics.”

“Would we ever stand idly by if a Republican were to say something like that? No, we would be calling on that person to apologize or resign,” Morillo wrote. Former DFL state representative and gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza also called for Kahn to apologize.

The canceled caucus reconvened smoothly at the University of Minnesota Wednesday evening.

The police are investigating Omar’s injuries. The DFL will also investigate the initial caucus incident.

“I hope that she’s OK,” Kahn added. “I’m sorry that she was hurt in some way, but I don’t have any responsibility for it.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Michele Olson on 02/21/2014 - 10:27 am.

    Long terms

    I’m not in Representative Kahn’s district, I am not familiar with her voting record or how she serves her constituents. I’m also aware that there are those who are so enthusiastic in their support of a candidate that they will go overboard without that candidate’s knowledge.

    But I also want to suggest that the great wisdom we have learned from President Washington’s suggestion about limiting terms, could also apply at a local level.

    It is simply too easy to start believing in your own press and to look the other way when it’s more convenient. It seems to be human nature, it seems to be the way of the world. Few people possess the self-recognition that the President had on this subject.

  2. Submitted by rolf westgard on 02/21/2014 - 12:56 pm.

    To my knowledge

    Kahn is one of the very few MN lawmakers with a solid science education. We need people like her in the legislature.

    • Submitted by Michele Olson on 02/21/2014 - 02:58 pm.

      scientists in the legislature

      I agree about needing more science-educated people in the legislature. I listen to the folks in St. Paul and D.C. spouting statistics, for example, fracking, stem cell research, space exploration, and I wonder how many of them have ANY knowledge of the subject matter. Probably more to the point, why do we believe them?

      I won’t argue that Representative Kahn has the science background. What I would suggest is that she could better serve by encouraging another person with a science background to run for that office.

  3. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/21/2014 - 02:41 pm.

    Attempts to repaint yourself after your true colors are shown…

    …simply don’t work, because they are obviously insincere and not credible. The point here is not whether Phyllis Kahn could be compelled by circumstances and widespread advice to apologize.

    The point is the kind of public officeholder she is or has become – egocentric, arrogant, dismissive, talking out of both sides of her mouth.

    And her attitude has not changed. Quite the contrary, she’s doubled down in stubborn self-righteousness !!

    EVEN NOW she makes this bizarre comment that anyone who objects to her statement should first have a death threat against them before they are qualified to refute her, insisting her statement is true.

    The idea that fists could be shrugged off or dismissed in our political dialogue because someone allegedly made a death threat to Ms. Kahn is NOT true. She would see it has an extremely negative consequence, if she stopped her self-defense long enough to think her way through it.

    If fists are tolerated or dismissed as insignificant, how long do you think it will be before escalation of that level of violence will show up – as in death threats, or worse ?

    Ms. Kahn, thanks for your years of service. But you have simply been in office too long. In your arrogance, you have come to take so much for granted.

    Please find it in yourself to go gracefully.

  4. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 02/22/2014 - 04:33 am.

    Sharing power with others

    Our country would be better off with term limits. Unfortunately, those in public office too long lose touch with constituents and really cannot represent constituent interests. We have too many career politicians in the legislature and the legislature just no longer represents Minnesota and its values.

  5. Submitted by jason myron on 02/24/2014 - 07:12 am.

    I don’t care

    what you’ve done or how well liked you are. If you’ve been in pubic office since 1972, it’s time to step aside.

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