Minneapolis School Board member Mohamud Noor won a majority of delegates — but fewer than anticipated — at a reconvened DFL precinct caucus at the University of Minnesota Wednesday evening after an initial caucus meeting ended in a brawl.
The reconvened caucus was highly attended, with nearly 700 people crammed into the Coffman Memorial Union’s Great Hall in an intraparty fight between Noor and longtime incumbent Rep. Phyllis Kahn. But it was much calmer than a meeting at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood two weeks ago. Police shut down that caucus before delegates were selected because a fight broke out. One activist suffered a concussion.
“What really excited me tonight was looking out on the crowd and seeing all of these faces eager to participate in our process, excited about exercising their rights in our Democracy and participating in ways that we haven’t seen before,” DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said after the caucus had quietly wrapped up. “The numbers of people that showed up tonight were unprecedented…and I think it’s a great day for the DFL Party, and it’s a great day for the Somali-American community.”
Of the total 43 delegates up for grabs in the predominantly East African precinct, Noor won 28 delegates and Kahn picked up 15 supporters. Both candidates want to send a majority of their supporters to the broader DFL endorsing convention in April.
Noor, Kahn react
Noor said he was feeling “great” after the convention, though he had likely anticipated winning more delegates in the process. “I think we got a good number of delegates,” Noor said. “That shows the spirit of the process and we’ll come back to the convention and see how things stand.
“There are so many other challenges which we will overcome at a different point, but the community is unified,” he added. “I think there was a lot of misinformation, which sometimes can confuse first-time goers to the caucuses.”
“I’m very grateful to the people who came out and supported me,” Kahn said after the delegates were selected. “I understand the pressure on them to not support me, and I’m just pleased and very proud of the people who are working for me. We still have the convention to go to.”
Kahn is promising to abide by the endorsement, but Noor is taking a wait-and-see approach. One candidate must hit a 60 percent threshold of the House district’s 381 delegates in to win the endorsement, or the race would move to a primary. It appears to be a close contest with just over a month left before the convention.
The race for the Minneapolis House seat has fractured the city’s East African community, with many supporting Noor, a fellow Somali, but a faction banding behind Kahn, including new Somali City Council member Abdi Warsame.
There’s a workplace complaint against Warsame at City Hall. The city human resources department is investigating comments he allegedly made about Ilhan Omar, a councilman’s policy aide, to her boss, Andrew Johnson, before the Feb. 4 caucus.
Warsame declined to comment on his alleged remarks to Johnson that included a warning that Omar should stay away from the caucus and remain at home taking care of her children. Omar was later beaten and suffered a concussion at the Feb. 4 caucus.
Focus on Kahn
Kahn was the subject of some controversy after questioning the extent of Omar’s injuries. She mentioned the news report during her pitch to delegates on Wednesday night. “Despite various media statements, I want to say I oppose violence in any form and would never punch anybody or approve of a punch,” she said.
In all, more than 400 people participated in the voting process for the single precinct. Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who was one of four precinct outsiders brought in to chair the event, said it was one of the largest caucuses in the nation.
“When we have stood together we have set a model for literally the entire world,” Rybak told the crowd. “We have so many reasons to be proud, but I was not proud on caucus night. Like so many others, I was deeply disturbed to hear of the chaos that took place. It was below the dignity of this great community. We have come too far and we have come too far together to destroy the reputation it tooks thousands of people many years to build.”
Activists gathered hours before the caucus was set to begin, with many busing to the university from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The DFL spent several thousand dollars on busing to bring caucus-goers to the university meeting space, which was large enough to handle the massive crowd.
Noor supporters arranged their own transportation from the Brian Coyle Center, too. Cars clogged the parking lot in a line, filling with caucus-goers waiting to be shuttled to Coffman Union. Noor volunteers helped elder Somalis onto the buses as private security guards watched on. Rumors swirled that there might be purposeful disruptions at the Cedar-Riverside community center, but nothing materialized.
Likewise, the chaos that marked the previous caucus was absent on Wednesday evening. Proceedings were passionate but ran smoothly, with the party and campaigns enforcing tougher rules.
DFL activist Jibril Said said he was undecided in the race, but mostly wanted to see unity in the community again. “I want to see what’s going on first, but the unity in the Somali community is also one of my concerns,” Said said. “I don’t want to see what took place last time.”
Abdirizak Alibos came to observe the race as a Kahn supporter. “She’s been sitting in that seat for 40 years, and there’s a reason,” he said of Kahn’s tenure in the Legislature. “She is doing a good job and we trust her.”
‘Time for a change’
For Abdalaziz Mohamed, that’s the exact reason he supports Noor. “It’s time for a change,” Mohamed said. “I’ve voted for [Kahn] several times, but it’s time for the community to choose someone new with fresh ideas and fresh policies.”
Mohamed was supposed to be an co-chair of the last caucus, he said, but he was warned ahead of time that there could be trouble at the event. He chose to not attend.
“I get mad because of the reputation of the community. I’ve been a Minneapolis election judge for several years, and it used to go smoothly and well,” he said. “An election is a Democratic process and I came here to several years ago to practice democracy.”
Police are investigating the Feb. 4 caucus incident, but Martin said the party is doing its own investigation into the matter. “We want to, one, look at some of the allegations that were made,” Martin said. “And then, two, look at our own internal process and make sure if there’s anything we can do to help improve the caucuses moving forward so the incidents that happened at Brian Coyle never happen again.”