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Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame now denies pre-caucus comments

Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame
MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
City Council Member Abdi Warsame

In a surprise move, Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame this week for the first time denied making controversial statements to a council colleague.

Warsame’s latest comments — coming more than three weeks after the alleged incident — contradict those of City Council Member Andrew Johnson.

They also add more tension to City Hall relations among council members, who include seven newcomers still adjusting to their jobs.

Johnson said that one of his colleagues told him on Feb. 3 that a policy aide in his office shouldn’t attend the next day’s precinct caucus in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The colleague, confirmed to be Warsame by a source close to the investigation, told Johnson that his staffer, Ilhan Omar, should stay away from the caucus or there could be trouble for her.

Ongoing city investigation

The crowded caucus ended abruptly following an attack that left Omar with a concussion. Shortly after that, Johnson lodged a complaint with council leadership that’s led to an ongoing internal city investigation.

Warsame initially declined to comment about the complaint and the allegations.

This week, though, he told MinnPost: “I did not say those things … There is no need for me to say those things.”

When questioned further after a Tuesday meeting, he added, “It’s ludicrous. The whole thing is ludicrous, in terms of my position.

“I didn’t say those things. I did not tell someone not to go to the caucus, nor am I interested if someone went to the caucus. I did not say [that] somebody should stay at home and cook food for their family, because why would it matter to me?” Warsame said. “The reason why I don’t want to come out and talk about things is because I have nothing to hide.”

Warsame, although insisting he didn’t make the comments, refused to say that Johnson and his aide were lying about the allegations.

“Whatever reason that him and his group or who’s putting these things out,” Warsame told MinnPost on Wednesday, “they have an agenda, and that’s up to them. You ask him why he would say stuff like that.”

Johnson stands by his version

Johnson, when told of Warsame’s denial, was incredulous — and equally unequivocal: “I absolutely was told those things, so there is zero question about that.”

“It’s shocking, and, frankly, it’s sad and disheartening. Our elected officials are supposed to be honest and have integrity, so if he’s saying he never said any of those things to me, that’s absolutely false,” Johnson said.  “I don’t want to work with people who are being dishonest, especially about something like that.”

In an earlier interview, Johnson had said: “I can confirm that that statement indeed did happen. “They did say that she needs to stay home to take care of her kids, that she shouldn’t interfere.”

Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson
MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
City Council Member Andrew Johnson

A source close to the investigation said that shortly after the caucus fight, Johnson and Warsame spoke on the phone, and Warsame said, “I told you this was going to happen.”

Warsame did say he spoke to Johnson about a StarTribune article that Omar had posted on Facebook about his margin of victory not being historic but denied making the other alleged comments.

Johnson said the Feb. 3 conversation began with discussion of the news article but quickly turned sour.

The city has confirmed there’s an open complaint against Warsame, but other details aren’t public. City investigators are working to interview the parties.

Since 2006, there have been nine ethics complaints against elected officials in Minneapolis, according to a city spokesman.

There are different types of complaints that can be filed within the city, and the spokesman declined to specify if the complaint against Warsame was one of those nine. Johnson also was unclear about how the complaint was categorized because it stemmed from concerns he raised with council leadership on the night of the caucus.

Last week, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges moved the police investigation of the caucus beating to the St. Paul Police Department to maintain impartiality.

Council members reserving judgment

Since the complaint and internal investigation surfaced, City Council members have had to deal with an unusual work environment.

So far, many of the council members are reserving judgment about their colleagues’ dispute.

City Council Member Alondra Cano
Courtesy of Alondra Cano
City Council Member Alondra Cano

However, one new council member, Alondra Cano, a Johnson ally, has raised serious concerns.

“My office and my staff, we are women, and certainly I’m concerned about the way this might affect our relationship and our workplace environment,” Cano said in an interview. “I’m just not sure. Once you cross that boundary, it’s just hard to know when it’s going to be crossed again.”

Cano said she sent out an email to council leadership the day after the attack “because I was extremely distraught at the information that Andrew Johnson had shared with me, and I was really concerned about the ways that we as a council were supposed to work together.”

Cano added in the interview: “I’m hearing these reports from another colleague about situations that happened in City Hall, and I’m just wondering: What is it that we’re going to do about this? What is it that we’re going to discuss as a legislative body around the ethics and the practices of this kind of work?”

Council leadership responded to Cano directly and assured her of the city’s ongoing investigation into the matter.

Barb Johnson: Not seeing tension

City Council President Barb Johnson told MinnPost Wednesday that she has not seen any tension among council members.

“That would surprise me,” she said, declining to comment about the details of the investigation. “I think we’re professionals here.”

“I would say the work of the council is proceeding … normally, and people are being respectful of each other as colleagues,” Barb Johnson said.

Several City Council members said they expect work to continue routinely while the internal city investigation runs its course.

Blong Yang, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, who has been critical of the police’s initial response to Omar’s beating, said the workplace complaint hasn’t affected his ability to interact with others.

Yang also viewed the issue pragmatically.

City Council President Barb Johnson
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
City Council President Barb Johnson

“You’re just one of 13 votes,” he said, speaking of the council’s size. “I think if people can understand that dynamic, it’s not that hard to recognize that sometimes you do just have to work with people you don’t like. I’m sure people here have done that all the time … there’s going to be times that we just hate each other, but hopefully that doesn’t stop us from doing the business of the city.”

Cano said she has a lot of questions about the incident that she hopes the investigation will resolve. Until then, she said, it’s tough to know how things will play out.

Andrew Johnson agreed that the findings from the investigations would make the situation much clearer and said that he spoke with an investigator about the incident on Monday.

Paul Ostrow, a former City Council president, said he hadn’t heard of anything quite like the current complaint at City Hall. Ostrow, first elected in 1997, said during his tenure the council typically worked things out behind the scenes.

“When you get into potential physical threats and that kind of intimidation, that does make working together fairly impossible,” Ostrow said.

“This takes it to a different level,” he added. “The very accusation is itself a challenge.”

Council Member Cam Gordon seemed genuinely out of the fray. “It seems like we’re able to get our work done just fine,” he said. “But it is definitely unexpected, and not a welcomed or planned turn of events.”

“Internal and external investigations aside, I have not had any problems working with Council Member Warsame,” Council Member Linea Palmisano said in an interview. “In fact, I have found him personally a pleasure to work with.”

But, she added, “This is difficult for the council to grapple with.”

“I don’t know if this kind of thing has happened in the past, but certainly it’s new for all of us as the new 13 working together,” Cano said. “I think it’s a little bit like walking on eggshells right now. Folks are figuring out who they can talk to and who they can’t.”

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/28/2014 - 10:40 am.

    What we need to know…

    …is who PAID people to go to the caucus to cause havoc and disrupt the process, leading to the mayhem ? Apparently, someone didn’t like the way things were going, and saw the need to disrupt.

    To the St. Paul police investigators: we really need to know who found, hired, and paid people to act as thugs at a political caucus, and WHO PROVIDED THE MONEY.

  2. Submitted by Barry Peterson on 02/28/2014 - 08:54 pm.

    Unsavory Comments by CM Warsame on January 25

    I have been involved with the DFL since 1979. I have been both chair and vice chair of the precinct in which the violence against Ilhan Omar was committed. I have been a member of MN DFL Senate District 59 and 60 (old SD59) for close to twenty years, and have been a very frequent attendee to our Central Committee meetings. I stand for equality and principles of democracy, whomever may be the opponent of my favored candidates.

    In this case, CM Warsame, Mohamed Ahmeemd “MJ” Jama, Attorney Brian Rice, and two other Somali Americans attended what I thought was going to be a pizza party, following a celebration of birth within the family of a local Warsame loyalist. I believe the date was January 25, 2014.

    Prior to the week of the first caucus this year, I had been a respected member of our precinct community, and have a history of advocating on behalf of elders, children, and disabled in the Riverside Plaza Complex, where a large number of caucus goers reside.

    During my time at African Mall, in a room where there was a television playing a football game (I believe the Seahawks were playing, but am not much of a fan, so the logo may have been for a different team), I sat with the attorney, CM Warsame, whom I supported and for whom I voted last November, and young Mr. Jama and the other two attendees of the very casual gathering of Phyllis Kahn supporters.

    At one point during the conversation, Mr. Warsame said that he hoped that Ms. Omar would not show up at the caucus, and that she would just make trouble. He also said that they shouldn’t invite Noor supporters to the caucus.

    Mr. Warsame is a loyal fan of Representative Kahn, as am I and the others in the room on that date. I believe he is exceptionally beholden to Representative Kahn for the support that she offered the now City of Minneapolis council member.

    This said, these comments were made nearly a week and a half prior the caucus where Ilhan Omar, a Noor supporter, was assigned by the Chairman of MN DFL Senate District 60, Mr. Gregory Oliver, to be on hand as a site coordinator.

    Fears that she would speak of Mr. Noor were apparent on the date of the meeting that I mentioned.

    That said, as a vice chair of the senate district, and as a site coordinator, Ms. Omar would have no right or likelihood of offering words of support to Mr. Noor, as that would be a violation of the rules to which top officers of the senate district are bound when serving as leaders at central committee meetings, executive committee meetings, and other formal meetings.

    While comments that were made at the meeting that I attended are not evidence enough to support CM Johnson’s allegations, it was clear to me that CM Warsame was predisposed to not wanting Ms. Omar at the caucus.

    I was called by Ms. Fran Sepler, the investigator on charges against Mr. Warsame. While Mr. Warsame has done an excellent job as Director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants’ Association (RPTA), of which I was once on the board of directors as secretary of the board and judicial officer, I was floored to hear the council member, and supporter of my friend and state representative, utter those unsavory and, in my opinion, undemocratic words.

    I am willing to testify to these facts, regardless of any denials by any member of that small meeting that may appear.

    My testimony may sever, and further sever, relationships which I have developed through acquaintance and advocacy for members of my community; but, testifying in this manner is the right thing to do — especially given the personality and tradition driven community from East Africa which CM Warsame now serves.

    I am very concerned that the truth should clearly come out, and that the community learn that no one is above the law, and that much of the heritage that the Somali population has lived through has not been supported by a peaceful and ethical democracy and democratic leaders.

    Our community needs leaders who are well above the fray, and into the tradition of fair play and objectivity on behalf of strengthening our democratic and fair electoral process.

    I will begin to close by saying that I believe Representative Kahn may, may, be concerned about this and later testimony regarding the words which I heard Abdi Warsame utter at the meeting, as she has high hopes for Mr. Warsame. I will nonetheless continue to support Phyllis Kahn for Minnesota House of Representatives, because I believe her intelligence, prominent education at Cornell University, MIT, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, over the years; combined with her ability to work on a bi-partisan basis in an exemplary manner, and given her many in-house courses and world travels on behalf of our state continues to have a prominent and uninterrupted place in our state legislature.

    I will also state that I believe Mr. Warsame’s earliest vision for the Sixth Ward was exemplary, that he has valuable communications and executive skills, but that, recently, his comments have detracted from an otherwise brilliant effort to serve our democracy.

  3. Submitted by Barry Peterson on 03/02/2014 - 08:47 pm.

    Name Correction and Notes

    I incorrectly spelled Mohamed “MJ” Jama’s second or family name. It is Ahmed. Jama is a brilliant young leader who developed the very successful Cedar Riverside Youth Council (CRYC) when he was fourteen years old. He hoped, and has successfully stewarded, the growth of a youth organization that has had a dynamic effect on the personal lives of the teens and young-20’s demographic in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

    Like most 20-year olds, he still needs time to conquer a formal education in some area of interest. Like all of us, he has his faults. However, his energy and devotion to our community has been, also, exemplary.

    Finally, the date of the meeting that I described may have been February 2, 2014. It was a Sunday near the date of the first convening of the caucus. A wonderfully huge family gathering was taking place before our meeting, and a football game was playing on the wide-screen television in the large room adjacent a small bakery stall.

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