Hundreds turn out for reconvened caucus

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February 20, 2014 // UPDATED 11:43 am - February 26, 2014
By: Christopher J. Hamilton
Christopher J. Hamilton

The Minneapolis Cedar-Riverside caucus two weeks ago that ended in violent chaos before the DFL could elect district delegates had a placid, yet passionately patriotic atmosphere Wednesday night — by design and community desire — set across the Mississippi.

Hundreds of registered Ward 6, Precinct 3 participants selected 15 delegates for Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-District 60B, and 28 for challenger Mohamud Noor. Along with another 43 alternates. District 60B includes Nicollet Island, Cedar-Riverside, neighborhoods along the riverfront and the University of Minnesota area. 

A couple hundred more are divided district-wide among the two; and they will next will decide who gets the party’s endorsement in April. Possibly deciding the real outcome.

However, on Wednesday, both sides claimed victories and pronounced excitement to move forward on record- and issue-oriented campaigns rather than dwelling on one ugly incident.

For several hours, a near-capacity crowd of about 700 participants, private security, police, observers, politicos and volunteers swelled the University of Minnesota‘s Coffman Union Grand Hall. The evening had its moments of boisterous, but positive and controlled crowd response.

Several speakers, and the candidates, repeatedly said Wednesday’s smooth process was the truer reflection of the Somali-American community’s dedication to the democratic process. 

Noor on Wednesday blamed the Feb. 4 disruptions and scuffles, which ended the evening without elections or adjournment, on larger-than-anticipated participation at the Brian Coyle Center and a lack of preparation. 

Meanwhile, Kahn said she played absolutely no part and was surprised as anyone by the outcome. At least two official investigations are underway into the dustup, which reportedly sent one person to the hospital but resulted in no arrests.  

The unusually heated internal contest, at least for these deep-blue neighborhoods and this incumbent, pits longtime lawmaker Kahn, 76, against relative newcomer Noor, a newly appointed Minneapolis School Board member. 

There were 421 registered participants alone Wednesday night for the complex and labor-intensive procedural sub-caucus and caucus vote counts, not to mention the actual 86 delegate elections. 

A few observers commented that the voters’ sheer volume made precinct caucuses that usually barely fill community centers look more like the entire DFL state convention.

“This is the largest caucus (of its kind) in the nation,” Noor told a cheering and still clearly divided audience, not quite half of whom sat in silence while he spoke. 

“My name is Mohamud Noor, and I am running for the House of Representatives… I’m not running to make a point. I’m running for the change we all deserve. I’m not running for me. I’m running for you.” 

Noor, 35, an established Somali-American activist within the strong ethnic community, is in his first political position, but he also ran in a close DFL-endorsement contest for a state Senate seat in 2011. Noor brushed aside any criticism saying he decided to run for the Legislature soon after his December appointment and that his eyes were always on the statehouse.

Kahn is running on her experience and committee leadership positions. She also accused Noor of leaving the school board in an unexpected lurch with his sudden announcement for a state office run. 

She said that decision doesn’t seem to jibe with an “education candidate.”

Noor said his platform does call for statewide pre-kindergarten and other education programs, but much more, too.

Noor, who is married with four children, has lived most his life in Minneapolis. He resigned as a systems administrator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services due to federal campaign laws.

“I have two elementary school-age sons who deserve a better education and deserve the American dream,” Noor said Wednesday.

He added that now is the time to address the inequalities in society, close the socioeconomic achievement gap, end homeless and make the University of Minnesota affordable and accessible to every child in this neighborhood and in the state. 

And if elected, Noor would be the first Somali-American sent to any state Capitol in the United States. Noor would only be the second elected official in Minnesota. That’s after Minneapolis voters put Abdi Warsame in City Council chambers in November.

Warsame, a Kahn supporter, allegedly played a role the Cedar-Riverside disturbance, according to a recent MinnPost report. There also were allegations of other outside influences causing problems from other various candidates’ allies.

Noor, like Kahn, reiterated on Wednesday that he had nothing to do with the incident whatsoever and thought it was unfortunate. 

Meanwhile, Kahn is one of the longest-serving members in the Legislature's history with 41 years on the job. She has rarely faced stiff competition within the party. 

“I have served the community well,” said Kahn, noting her commitment to assisting Somali-American students, producing bilingual education materials and brick-and-mortar neighborhood improvements. 

She said she is in an excellent position to continue to help the community as chairwoman of the powerful Legacy Committee and as a member of House finance appropriations. Kahn said she’s much-better positioned to bring home funding for local parks, city, education and community group projects. 

“No freshman legislator sits on those committees,” Kahn said.  

It should be noted, too, that Wednesday’s delegate selection is just one of several possible steps before November’s elections. First, the state Senate District 60 Convention is scheduled for 10 a.m., April 5 at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis.

And, of course, if either Kahn or Noor do not receive the DFL Party endorsement, she or he theoretically could decide to simply take on the other in the primaries. 

Noor on Wednesday sidestepped whether he would honor the endorsement process. 

“As I have been saying, at this moment, I will examine our options step by step as we move through this process,” Noor said after the caucus elections, which he said fell heavily in his favor. 

He added that the evening was a testament to how his campaign continues to galvanize not only the new immigrant population, but also the district’s students, progressives and activists.  

“I will respect the endorsement and not seek re-election,” Kahn said Wednesday of the party endorsement. “I always do.”  

DFL leaders choose a larger, neutral site in a controlled environment, said DFL Chairman Ken Martin Wednesday evening.

“We want to make sure the process is above reproach,” Martin said. “We want people to feel this is safe, fair and transparent and free to all to participate in.”

Martin told the audience that the incident may have made “some of you fear for your own safety and question whether to participate.” He wants the audience to help continue to prove that they won’t let the actions of a few tarnish the hard work of Somali community over the years, he said to applause.

Police broke up the last caucus at the Brian Coyle Center, at the staff’s request, as an overflow party jammed registration lines and scuffles broke out. At least one person reportedly went to the hospital with a concussion.    

The meeting actually ended during registration and before adjournment — thus the ability to reconvene Wednesday, Martin explained. 

At the time, Kahn never got a chance to speak as people reportedly chanted Noor’s initials. Noor had to attend another event and was not on hand at the time. 

The much more peaceful, and regulated, registration process began at 5 p.m., with the help of 55 DFL volunteers and a dozen staffers, said Martin and party spokeswoman Ellen Perrault. The caucus itself started roughly two hours later and lasted until past 10 p.m.

Three days after the incident, Kahn and Noor did issue a joint statement condemning the incident and calling for civil debate.

MinnPost has reported that Warsame told another council member, Andrew Johnson, “that he should warn his aide to stay away from the caucus or there could be trouble.” MinnPost also reported that City Hall is conducting a human resources investigation into the events leading up to the caucus. 

Warsame, meanwhile, has denied that he and his supporters had any part in the incident.

Martin said on Wednesday night that the DFL has just began its own investigation into the accusations. 

More than 300 people had filled the Coyle Center. But the caucus still was just one of nearly 120 held across the state that night — and the only to report any acts of violence or intimidation. 

On Wednesday, Martin, former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, former St. Paul City Council Member Melvin Carter and state Senate District 53 Chairwoman Alberder Gillespie helped moderate the evening.

Rybak told the audience he was deeply disturbed by the incident. 

“We must show tonight that the most important part of democracy is that everyone can express their views in an atmosphere of peace,” Rybak said. “Tonight, we will write the history for this community.”