Kahn, Noor to face primary after deadlocked DFL convention

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
“This is democracy in action,” said Mohamud Noor. “They’ve spoken that this is time for change.”

Minneapolis Rep. Phyllis Kahn and Somali activist Mohamud Noor are headed for a DFL primary election in August after a contentious endorsing convention deadlocked. 

After more than five hours and five rounds of balloting, neither candidate managed to earn the 60 percent support needed to secure the party’s backing. Nearly 300 activists participated in the balloting at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis on Saturday.

The House race has divided Democratic activists and the Somali community for months. A February precinct caucus to send delegates to the endorsing convention ended abruptly in violence.

The campaigns will continue on to the Aug. 12 primary election, with both candidates hoping to win the support of voters in the DFL district, which covers the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis and parts of the Cedar-Riverside, Seward and Prospect Park neighborhoods.

“I’m going to win it. I don’t want to say easily — it’s going to take a lot of work,” said Kahn, who has served the district in the House for last 42 years. “I’ve had more contested primaries than any other candidate. I’ve won them all.” 

Kahn said the vote was not representative of House District 60B as a whole, as turnout was low in precinct caucuses in areas around the University of Minnesota, where she carries strong support. 

‘This is democracy in action’

But Noor, a Minneapolis School Board member, said it was an exciting day for the community. Noor’s supporters, who filled the high school hallways adorned in his blue campaign shirts,  hoisted him into the air after they learned the race would move on to a primary. “This is democracy in action,” Noor said. “They’ve spoken that this is time for change.”

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
“I’m going to win it. I don’t want to say easily, it’s going to take a lot of work,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn of the upcoming primary election.

Primaries typically have low turnout, but Noor said he has tapped into an excited and broad coalition of support for his race. 

“We have the students ready to support me, we have the immigrants ready to support me and we have the progressives in this district ready to support me,” Noor added. “This was a big win for all of them and this is what we are looking for, to unite the voices of the district.”

Kahn was just six votes away from clinching the endorsement on the first ballot, but subsequent ballots saw little movement, with delegates locking in their votes. After Kahn lost some support in the fifth ballot, activists approved a motion to adjourn the convention instead of granting an endorsement.

Each has notable endorsements

Both candidates came into the convention with an impressive list of endorsements. Noor earned the backing of former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, the Stonewall DFL and the DFL Feminist Caucus, among others.

But Kahn had DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on her side, as well as other big names like Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison and Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame. Kahn backed Warsame’s successful bid to become the first Somali-American City Council member elected in the nation, but his involvement in the race has caused fissures in the Somali community.

In February, a precinct caucus in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood broke out in violence as both candidates tried to send their supporters to the endorsing convention. Activist Ilhan Omar was sent to the hospital and treated for a concussion.

Kahn, who got into politics in 1972 after suing the U for not granting her the same tenure track as her male colleauges, has taken heat for comments made after the convention minimizing Omar’s injuries. She subsequently apologized and addressed her comments in her Saturday convention speech, acknowledging that she likely offended Omar.  

“No one has ever accused me of being nice,” Kahn told the crowd. “You don’t grow up on the streets of Brooklyn and get degrees in the male dominated field of physics … by being nice.”

Kahn to cite seniority, record

Going forward, Kahn will continue to stress her seniority in the Legislature and her work on statewide issues like climate change and anti-smoking legislation, as well as district-focused issues like higher education.

Noor has focused his campaign on education, saying his first bill as a legislator would aim to institute universal prekindergarten education in the state.

DFL party leaders had hoped one candidate would leave the convention with the endorsement Saturday instead of spending five more months of intra-party battling for the seat.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 04/06/2014 - 11:31 am.

    In the unlikely event of Mohamud Noor prevailing over Phyllis Kahn, I think in 10 or 20 years that Noor could become a quarter or a half an effective legislator as Kahn is now.

    That was indeed a grueling day and some of the shenanigans made it longer than it had to be, whichever way it went.

    Noor has taken a page from one of his endorsers, R.T. Rybak, in preventing party endorsement, but, hey, that is democracy, I guess, even when it hurts and goes on forever and ever, with liberty and justice for all.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/07/2014 - 03:06 pm.

      First rule of employment

      Never assume your’e indispensable.

    • Submitted by Tom Clark on 04/07/2014 - 04:13 pm.

      What is seeming more and more likely

      given that Noor has made it this far is that he will prevail in the primary, given the zeal of his supporters and the likelihood of a light turnout given the primary is in early August.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/06/2014 - 02:33 pm.

    It’s surprising that this article doesn’t contain more information about the convention itself. There’s a lot of re-hash of what happened at and because of one precinct caucus in February, contrasted with little of what each candidate actually offered to the delegates yesterday in terms of campaign positions on various issues. Kahn challenged her opponent on his not seeming to have specific stands on many issues, for example, and including that aspect of the convention would have added to the “newsy-ness” of this piece.

    I think the reporter really wants to portray this race as a personality/ethnic group rivalry, rather than a discussion of who could best serve the particular communities in the house district.

    Also: a caveat about Kahn’s ostensibly “losing support” by the time of a late ballot. What she had lost was people, who were tired and had begun leaving the convention. Quite different from what is implied in a drop in support (i.e., the tide somehow turning to Noor).

    MinnPost presents this reporter’s work as journalism, rather than a personal blog. She might benefit from some mentoring on standards of objectivity.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 04/06/2014 - 04:48 pm.

      This reporter – Briana Bierschbach –

      has done an excellent job in covering a very contentious endorsement contest.

      She also has an excellent record of objective reporting over the years.

      Had Kahn’s supporters not “pulled the plug” on the endorsement process, it is possible that Noor’s supporters may, indeed, have won the endorsement because more of Kahn’s supporters got tired and left …

      This crazy process is a clear indication that the endorsement process has run amuck. Primaries may have their problems, but they are clearly superior to a process where “activists” have their way.

      • Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 04/06/2014 - 08:02 pm.

        Thank you, a thousand times…

        thank you, and may you keep speaking this truth. Minnesota’s caucus/convention/endorsement process is so outdated as to be almost antediluvian. I’m delighted that some newcomers are willing to fight their way through the brambles and demand a voice. I say this with no disrespect for Kahn, just a fervent hope that the old guard will voluntarily tear down the daub and wattle for a 21st Century elections model.

      • Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/06/2014 - 09:18 pm.

        An amen to what Bill Gleason just wrote….

        Briana Bierschback is a terrific reporter. And the endorsement process has run amuck. I don’t think a couple hundred party activists should get to decide a state legislative race. Primaries aren’t perfect, but at this point, they are more democratic than the endorsement process.

  3. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/07/2014 - 12:47 pm.

    Oh noes!

    You mean every voter in the district will have a say in who represents them? The candidate won’t be picked by a small, unrepresentative group of people who don’t have time contraints that limit them from spending many hours over multiple days to have their vote count?

  4. Submitted by jason myron on 04/07/2014 - 04:57 pm.

    I have no dog in this fight

    as I don’t live in her district. As a casual observer, I have to wonder when representing a district for 42 years ceases to be about public service and morphs into a nice part time job with the added perk of political power. I really don’t care how much good you’ve done in a political career…when you’ve been there since 1972, it’s time to step aside and let others take a crack at it.

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