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Election 2013, Volume 4, Issue 4: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 6

October 22nd, 2013 (05:19 pm)

So this is a particularly interesting race. Incumbent Robert Lilligren is a long-time City Council member and claims credit for some stuff I really liked -- he says that when he first got elected he focused on that miserable life-of-the-neighborhood-sucking abandoned Sears building and now it's the Midtown Exchange, which is awesome. Since one of the issues in this race is minority representation, I'm going to point out that he's Ojibwe. He's also gay, although I think that if we're talking about representation and consideration of people's interests, gay men in Minneapolis are doing okay at a city level.

But, he represents a Ward that is heavily Somali immigrants (many of whom have become naturalized citizens, making them a force to be reckoned with when elections roll around). There are no Somalis on the City Council. Abdi Warsame, a Somali immigrant, ran for the endorsement and got it. (Lilligren was smart enough not to make any promises about "suspending his campaign," unlike Met Tuthill). A number of Lilligren supporters complained that they were harassed and intimidated by Warsame supporters at the Precinct Caucuses or the Ward Convention. (There's a good article about that here but for God's sake don't read the comments. I clicked to see if there was anyone who'd BEEN AT THE CONVENTION adding their 2 cents but gave up because it's a sea of xenophobia and racism with a side of hating the Irish -- I wish I were kidding.) Shortly after the convention, Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin speculated that the sudden appearance of two more "Abdis" on the ballot was because Lilligren had recruited people with similar-looking names to run and divide the vote and sow confusion.


A note: I have been trying to consistently refer to candidates by their first names in these posts, but due to the "Abdi" issue, I'm going to use last names this time around.

There are six candidates on the ballot for the Ward 6 Council seat:

Abdi Addow (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)
Abukar Abdi (Democratic-Farmer-Labor) <--note, I'll be referring to him as Abdi, because it's his last name
Sheikh Abdul (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)
Mahamed A Cali (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)
Robert Lilligren (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)
Abdi Warsame (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)

I looked up the name Abdi several years ago, because it really does seem to be the approximate Somali equivalent of "John." It means "Servant," and is sometimes paired with a name that is one of the words used to refer to God in Arabic, so you'll get Abdirahman, which means "Servant of the Benevolent One" (I think). But, someone named Abdirahman might get called Abdi for the exact same reason that probably most of the Christophers in your life get called Chris. One of the not-the-same-guy candidates is Abdul rather than Abdi -- the names have the same root. So imagine if you went to the polls and saw the following ballot:

Chris Johnson
Chris Jackson
Mark Christopher
James Kristopher
Fred Smith

...yeah, there might have been shenanigans. Although, there are a LOT of Somalis with names that are variants of Abdi. A LOT. And, Somalis are not a monolithic group. I think I was first struck by this back in 2001 when the Midmorning show on MPR (which had a call-in format) did an hour on the recent decision of the Feds to block money transfers to several Somali money-transferring services. (These were heavily used by local immigrants to send cash back home to their families; some of the money was apparently being diverted to terrorist groups.) Anyway, Katherine Lanpher wanted to know what people thought. I don't think she realized just how many Somalis listen to public radio. (It turns out, it's a great way to improve your English comprehension.) She took about fifteen calls in a row from Somalis, all vehemently disagreeing with each other.

Anyway. My point is, you don't necessarily need an agent provocateur to get a bunch of Somalis to run against each other, and it's POSSIBLE they all just happened to be named Abdi.

Abdi Addow (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)

Okay. Googling this name got me a half-dozen Twitter users. One of them was in Minneapolis but didn't seem to be talking about politics. I also found this interview but it's in Somali (with occasional English phrases like "the root cause of the problem" and "West Bank community coalition" mixed in.) It's a 17-minute video but since I speak no Somali, not super helpful to me. I can tell you that he's wearing a suit and acting like a serious candidate, at least.

In a Star Tribune article speculating about shenanigans, Addow is quoted as saying that he filed "because I think I can unite this community," and they say he said he didn't bother with the endorsing convention because those events were all a show, and noted that Governor Dayton didn't get endorsed so what's the problem, exactly?

If this guy's a spoiler, he's at least a spoiler who's willing to put some real effort into his fake campaign. (Not to the point of putting up a website or any information that's accessible to non-Somalis, so you know, I wouldn't VOTE for him.)

(The Strib article also notes that Lilligren said some of his Somalis supporters came up with the idea of recruiting extra Somalis to run and it's pretty clear that his response was something along the lines of, "just don't tell me about it, OK?")

Oh, hey. I also found an e-democracy thread about him that notes he initially filed as Abdirashid Addow and as a member of the Independence Party, then changed his affidavit of candidacy to be Abdi, a DFLer. And....this still doesn't prove anything. One of his friends might have said, "c'mon, EVERYONE calls you Abdi! and you'll NEVER win as anything but a Democrat!" Anyway, the next two are plenty shady enough.

Abukar Abdi (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)

According to that same Star Trib article, this guy's address on his campaign filing form doesn't actually exist. (here's the form, and Google Maps agrees with the Strib that this isn't a real address.) The fact that he's still listed as a candidate is honestly kind of puzzling to me. Why even have people fill out these (legal!) forms if you're not going to contact them and either remove their name or fix the form if they wrote down a false address?

I found no other information on him.

Sheikh Abdul (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)

Didn't return calls to the Star Tribune. I looked at his candidate filing and found a few really odd things. He does at least has a real address; it's on the outskirts of downtown. But his e-mail address, which is an augsburg.edu address, is listed as ahmeda@augsburg.edu. Most universities hand out e-mail addresses in a rather predictable and boring way that is based on your name, and Sheikh Abdul would probably be sabdul or abduls or sheikh.abdul.

So I searched ahmeda@augsburg.edu and turned up a kind of dated page of student announcements. The page is from 2010 and the e-mail address belongs to a student named Abdulaziz Ahmed. I'm going to hazard a guess that the person who posted the announcement in 2010 no longer owns that e-mail address and it now belongs to someone else with the last name Ahmed and a first name beginning with the letter A who attends Augsburg.

Admittedly, it's just a contact address for your campaign; it doesn't have to actually be the candidate's e-mail. Given the complete lack of an actual campaign, though, it smells pretty thoroughly fishy.

Mahamed A Cali (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)

Cali tried for endorsement but didn't get it. In interview in the Southwest Journal, he's quoted as saying, "I want to show that anybody can be a leader of their community. This is a great opportunity."

You know, "I want to prove that anyone can do this job!" is one of the least-convincing vote-for-me arguments of all time. Also, he's definitely a real candidate in the sense that he's not a deliberate spoiler, but he fails my "is this person a real candidate" test with his lack of a website.

Which brings us to the only two real candidates in the race.

Robert Lilligren (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)

So. I like Lilligren. I mentioned the Sears building and how much I appreciate the fact that it's no longer empty; he also has been working on re-opening Nicollet (and it sounds like he's actually claiming to have DONE STUFF, unlike the candidate I reviewed yesterday who favors re-opening Nicollet as well as favoring the petting of kittens and the baking of apple pies, I'm guessing.) Unlike most of the incumbents who lost endorsement, he voted against the Vikings Stadium. If we're concerned about minority representation, you would be hard-pressed to find a more chronically underrepresented minority in Minneapolis than Indians (and let me just note for the record that he's an enrolled tribal member, not a white guy who thinks he has some Indian ancestry somewhere like Johnny Depp). He doesn't own a car, but gets around by bike or transit, which I think is pretty cool.

The "recruit a bunch of sound-alike spoilers" counts as shenanigans (even if he's not personally doing it) but I'm not sure it counts as seriously dirty politics. I'll give him a little bit of credit for admitting that some of his Somali supporters suggested that they find other Somalis to run, and he's right that it's not illegal. It's definitely one of the hazards inherent to Instant Runoff Voting, though -- if you have a primary, it'll be the rare, freak situation when people get so confused they put one of the total weirdos on the ballot for the general election.

Abdi Warsame (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)

I have to admit that one of the first things I noticed when I looked at Abdi Warsame's website was that his daughter does not wear a hijab. One of the things you'll notice walking around Minneapolis is that there is an incredible range in variation of Somali Muslim dress; you'll see girls in hijabs and the loose-fitting long tunics, girls in ankle-length skirts but tight-fitting blouses and a hijab, girls in blue jeans and t-shirts and a hijab, and girls who are with hijab-wearing mothers but who are not wearing hijabs at all. (If I see a girl who looks East African but isn't wearing any sort of hijab, my first guess is that she's Ethiopian. Obviously, some of the time I'm totally wrong.) The hijab is always the last thing to go.

I've seen this particular evolution up close at my daughters' old school. The first step seems to be talking your parents into letting you wear snow pants (because those are PRACTICAL and you NEED THEM to play in the snow!) and then pointing out how totally uncomfortable a long skirt is when you stuff it into your bib-style snow pants. Kiera had a classmate who had to wear the long tunic or a dress most days but got a "casual day" once a week when she could wear blue jeans (still with the hijab, although once she was at school it seemed to fall off and wind up in her locker on a semi-regular basis).

Anyway. Warsame's daughter is pictured in jeans, a t-shirt, and a hair ribbon. She's adorable. She's six years old, so pretty clearly he was just fine with American dress from the start; six is when Somali girls in Minneapolis tend to START pushing hard for jeans. (Either that, or he decided that American-style dress was a perfectly fine compromise that would reassure jumpy non-Somali Ward 6 residents that he wasn't going to try to write Sharia Law into the Minneapolis Charter.)

Does any of this matter? Not particularly, I just found it interesting, since I so strongly associate the hijab as a Somali-in-Minnesota cultural marker. It does suggest that he's socially liberal (but Hussein Samatar, who died a few months back TRAGICALLY young due to cancer, was also socially liberal, and I'm pretty sure his female family members wear hijabs.) There are some extremely socially conservative Somalis. Most socially conservative Christians join the Republican party, but since Somalis are not inclined to join a party full of people who openly hate (a) immigrants and (b) Muslims, they're pretty much ALL DFLers. (Fortunately, the crazy-ass Christians have never actually sat down and compared social views with the crazy-ass Muslims and instead have SWORN ETERNAL ENMITY and we are spared the horrific dystopia that would result if these two groups ever actually allied with each other, at least for now.) Anyway, the fact that he is endorsed by Phyllis Kahn and various other high-profile DFLers is also reassuring in that regard.

Moving on to some actual issues. He talks in some detail on his website about affordable housing and acting as a representative to renters. He mentions that he worked to make the Cedar Riverside towers smoke-free. There's not a lot that really differentiates him from Lilligren, other than their backgrounds.

Honestly, if I lived in Ward 6, I'm not sure who I'd vote for. It might depend on how much I liked Lilligren from past interactions.

I think Warsame's going to win.

Election 2013 Index of Posts