OPINION | Surviving the way-too-raucous Cedar-Riverside DFL caucus

The events at the Brian Coyle Center, site of the Minneapolis 6th Ward, Precinct 3 caucus, are complex. For those who need a primer, the players are: Mohamud Noor, current Minneapolis school board member, candidate for State House seat 60B; Rep. Phyllis Kahn, 42-year incumbent to the State House, currently running for endorsement for her current seat, 60B; City Council Member (CM) Abdi Warsame, currently the highest ranked Somali elected official in town, but that would change if Noor won the 60B seat (CM Warsame is a vocal supporter of Rep. Kahn); DFL senate district chairs, Greg Oliver and Ilhan Omar (Ms. Omar is also a policy aide to CM Andrew Johnson of Ward 12); Warsame’s policy aide, Abdi Salah; Brian Rice, high profile political lobbyist and friend of Rep. Kahn; the two co-convenors of the precinct caucus, Mohamed Jama, known as MJ, a Kahn supporter, and Zamzam Ali, female and a Noor supporter.

I tried to get a statement from CM Warsame through the city web contact form, but his office has not responded. I have contacted both Noor and Oliver but have had no reply. Corey Day, executive director of the MN DFL, who was present at the caucus, was not able to speak with me personally, but referred me to his office staff, who were quite helpful. I have also had some input from park board member Scott Vreeland, who was present as a volunteer, and a few other DFL friends. Finally, I got information about the role of MJ from a harsh letter of reprimand written by Barry Peterson to him and posted on Facebook.

The undisputed facts are that the caucus was shut down by Minneapolis police at about 8 p.m., and that there were over 300 attendees with woefully inadequate preparations having been made, causing Coyle Center staff to scramble to accommodate them. It is a fact that MJ, toward the end of the evening, jumped up on a table and started a crowd chanting his nickname. Scott Vreeland, who tried to break up the fight that followed this, says there were “multiple table leapers.” Also, it’s a fact that blows were exchanged, and that the only person injured was Ilhan Omar, who left with a bloody nose and lip, and was later diagnosed with concussion and a sprained neck by emergency services. Omar did not widely publicize her injuries, trying to protect the Party and limit bad PR. But since she has continued to be threatened, blamed and scapegoated since the caucus, she has allowed the emergency report to be released. A joint statement from the two candidates assures us that the caucus will be reconvened and given another chance to elect delegates.

How involved was Warsame in the dirty tricks described below? Several people at City Hall think he was very involved, indeed, but I could find no direct proof, other than the actions of his aide and relatives.

I talked to Ilhan for nearly an hour, so I know her story. There are some who don’t believe her story, including Rep. Kahn, but they are either outright enemies of Ilhan or suffering from confirmation-bias (admitting that the truth of her story is going to make them look pretty bad). There are also, increasingly, plenty who support her: Facebook is awash in profile pictures that simply state “I Believe Ilhan.” After a week, the DFL Feminist Caucus is largely rallying around her. Ms. Omar is no flash-in-the-pan, picked at random for a leadership role in the DFL. I saw her in action as co-chair of the Minneapolis City Convention, where she was calm and professional. She is dedicated to communicating the finer points of DFL organizing to her fellow Somalis, and seems way too “modern” to be playing the kind of nefarious games of which her mostly male opponents are accusing her.

The main conflicting message I am getting from the two “sides”—that is, the pro-Kahn side and, not necessarily the pro-Noor side so much as the pro-Omar side—is that Kahn supporters seem convinced that not only is Ms. Omar an avid Noor supporter, but that she is actively working for his campaign and incapable of acting neutrally in her role as a senate district co-chair. Ms. Omar denies all of that, and her supporters say that even if she does support Noor personally, she is a DFL officer of integrity and ought to be accepted as functionally neutral by Kahn’s campaign. I was able to talk to Rep. Kahn for about a half an hour. She is quite sincere in her belief that Ms. Omar is working against her and is not neutral. When I asked her why, she said it was because she had been told so. She also told me that when she first met Ms. Omar, she thought Ilhan was her supporter but had later learned that she was opposing her. I asked her why she would think that a chair of her SD could either oppose or support her, and she honestly did not seem to understand me. Looking into this further, I discovered an exchange between Kahn and Omar on Facebook well before the caucus where Kahn thanked Omar for meeting with her and thanked her for her support. Omar replied that she was sorry if Rep. Kahn misunderstood, but as SD 60 chair, she cannot support either candidate. Apparently, Rep. Kahn has not only forgotten this whole exchange, but is ‘remembering” it in a totally false way.

Rep. Kahn does not accept that there was any deliberate bad conduct by any of her supporters. This is despite the fact that MJ, her chosen caucus convener, has been reprimanded for gang tactics and gross unprofessional conduct, and that the Cedar-Riverside Youth Council, strongly identified with her campaign, put out a “press release” just hours after the caucus that was full of verifiable untruths. And it was not just Somalis at the caucus who were insisting that Omar be expelled, against all principles of the DFL. According to Omar, one of those who asked her co-chair, Greg Oliver, to expel her was Kahn’s very close associate Brian Rice. The Kahn supporters were successful in getting her removed from her pre-agreed-upon role of running the registration table (another thing that may have contributed enormously to the chaos).

Ms. Omar knew who most of her attackers were. They were mainly relatives of either Abdi Warsame, his aide, Abdi Salah, or MJ. Mr. Salah had also threatened Ms. Omar, in Somali, at the caucus, that his female relatives were going to “deal with her.” Because a lot of the threats to Ms. Omar were made in Somali, non-African DFL colleagues were not aware of the extreme violence being directed toward her until she was actually assaulted. In his reprimand to MJ, Barry Peterson says he knows that MJ knows the identities of the attackers but is refusing to divulge them. In an op-ed piece for the StarTribune, Ilhan Omar said, “Last Monday, a direct threat was made from a community member who told my boss to ‘keep me away’ and that he should order me to instead ‘focus on making dinner for my kids.’ ”

There were at least two other things that Ms. Omar told me that were all confirmed by at least one other person, that if true are very damning indeed for someone on the Kahn side. First is that Omar says she found out from the Coyle Center, at around noon on caucus day, that someone impersonating her over the telephone had canceled the booking for the caucus. This may have been another reason that accommodations were so lacking. The second has to do with one other undisputed fact—that co-convenor Mohamed Jama started the crowd to chanting “MJ! MJ!”. Here is another puzzle: Both sides admit that Noor supporters were in the majority, yet MJ was the convenor for the Kahn side. Why were so many in the crowd chanting his nickname? Omar told me that “MJ” is also the abbreviation of the name of the Somali clan that most West Bank residents belong to. They may not have even known that it was also his nickname, but naturally joined in as one would for a sports team chant. This was all part of MJ’s last-ditch effort to wrest control of the caucus from his co-convenor, Ms. Ali, and it led directly to the outbreak of violence and the shutdown. Ms. Omar also told me that there were attempts to use her position as aide to CM Johnson to prevent her from attending the caucus in any capacity. And of course, the smear that Cedar-Riverside Youth Council, the main enforcer for Kahn supporters’ dirty tricks, primarily used is that she is an “outsider.” Which is patently absurd. Even though she doesn’t live in that exact precinct, she lives on the West Bank. As a respected party leader in the DFL who is fluent in both Somali and English, you would think she would be respected as an asset to the community. At one point during the heated exchanges that preceded her beating, she says that CM Warsame’s aide Abdi Salah said to her, in Somali, “I don’t hear what you’re saying, because I don’t talk with women.”

Throughout this complex narrative, a theme emerges: that Noor’s Somali opponents turned on Omar, because as a woman she is an easy target. Similar things have happened before to other Somali women who work in the political arena. And one can’t help noticing that among the Somalis, as in other emerging identity groups, the men are the candidates and “rock stars,” while the women are aides and co-chairs, conveniently filling in the DFL’s gender balance needs and diversity profile while not getting too close to real power.

Related story: NEWS DAY | Cedar-Riverside caucus rescheduled for February 19 in new location, by Mary Turck (TC Daily Planet, February 2014)

The Brian Coyle Center is located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, one of the most densely populated areas in the state, with approximately 1,800 apartment units on two city bloc

Brian Coyle Center
420 15th Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 55454
Mon–Fri, 8:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Saturday, 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
POINT(114.177987 22.321702)
  • I am apaulled by the author's bias and inability to get facts straight, or to define who published my letter to MJ, a young man who has incredible achievements behind him, and who now must deal with a sense of humiliation and guilt, along with growing into a man of high integrity and future success. While he may have published a slanted newsletter, and while I do know that he was dramatically opposed to Ilhan Omar two Sundays prior the caucus of February 4, 2014 in Minneapolis Ward 6, Precinct 3, of which I was vice chair, and of which I have either been chair or involved in other caucus activities for nearly two decades at the Coyle Center, as a member of the DFL, Mohamed Ahmed "MJ" Jama was acting like young men who I lived with as a pledge and as a boarder at three different fraternities on the University of Minnesota Campus. As for allegations of violence coming from him, I cannot say either way. I can say he was embroiled in vigorous verbal discourse with a bunch of East Africans attending the caucus. He appeared to be quite tense, as seen in his lips being tightly placed together and a little outward, as I have seen when he was the victim of violence last year by an unstable member of our small community of 4,000 at Riverside Plaza; I have known the former accused assailant for nearly twenty-years. In my opinion, MJ, as a young man, has not learned to handle anger very well. This is not unusual. What is unusual about him is that he has taken on various civic roles in city and county government, and was tapped to be flown to Washington D.C., and the White House, to meet with a dozen other bright and engaged youths and President Obama on the topic of how they, the teenagers, would like to see America to grow in the next fifty years. The author's information about the time of dispersal of the caucus goers was nearly 7:40 p.m. I had grown tired of creepy groups of adolescents and young adults making problems for one another and the candidates at that time, and told Commissioner Vreeland and Greg Oliver, our senate district chair, that I had enough of the nonsense and violence. The letter that the author referred to, as coming from me and being harsh, was published by a friend of Mohamed Jama in an effort to make me look bad. MJ had considered be to be his menot for four years; if I could retract words of dismay to him in a meaningful way, I would, as I, myself, used poor judgment in writing such a biting letter to him. Further, the author never interviewed me, and any comment that I made regarding MJ's likelihood of know the assailants of Ilhan Omar were shared in private. As the son of a former federal prsecutor and veteran attorney of fifty year, I have learned to say I believe you MAY know, or that HE MAY know. The author doesn't seem to have a grasp of excellent reporting or nuances found in the English language. Further, the Somali people are still extremely ethnically cohesive. In my observation, and in my knowledge of clans in the Minneapolis area, they want to feel pride in having members of their national heritage find a place among leaders. In an innocent and paternalistic message that I left on Cedar Riverside e-democracy.org, I tried to make poison into medicine by noting objective facts. As an outsider, several people attacked me in writing, stating that I, the father of two Africans, and a small investor in small businesses in Ghana, West Africa, was racist. Had a Somali with experience in caucuses written the same note, the reaction would not have been so harsh. I do not support Mohamud Noor. He ran for our senate seat, lost; then ran for school board and won; and while new in office at the school board, he has a desire to jump ship for what may be a lesser role in the development of the Somali community as a newcomer to the MN House of Representatives. Based on one official's comments, not Mr. Warsame, Mr. Noor has moved two or three times in the past few years to smaller residences, originally living in a house fit for his five member family, now into a much smaller apartment, uprooting his little girls. In the end, this man may become a winner, as U.S. President Lincoln did as he lost a series of elections before running for the presidency and winning. However, I am not convinced that he has the maturity or capacity to become an excellent representative in the House. That said, I stand in alliance with Ilhan Omar, the DFL Senate District 60 vice chair who told me that she was sent to the caucus by our political party, and not as a surrogate of Noor. Her political views at the caucus would not have had an effect on her performance, as she would not be able to endorse anyone. My perception of the author's slant against Representative Kahn intrigues and bothers me at the same time, as we have not spoken to one another. Her national credentials as one of the most productive female politicians in the country, by the Organization, Women Winning, her well-developed network of resources and collaborators, her academic background as a graduate of Cornell University, and later as a student, at the graduate and post graduate levels, of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and MIT show her to be a formidable woman and brilliant thinker. I see no reason for another Democrat running against such a proven asset to our community -- other than ethnic pride that excites and tempers the Minneapolis Sixth Ward. Getting back to the letter that I wrote, I mishandled my dismay by being overly blunt with a young man who has not learned to accept pointed criticism. I should have been more subtle. Young Mr. Jama was humiliated by the private letter from me, a mentor of four years, and called me the Friday after the first caucus on the fourth to suggest that we shouldn't talk to one another anymore. The entire affair speaks of the good work that our civil rights Acts in the federal government and throughout state, county, and city government has done for most people. The Somali community carries its ethnic and, for the most part, its religious pride as two ways to get over their losses in their country of heritage. In time, it will learn of the reasons for not excluding perceived outsiders. Minn Post has written two or three articles of greater substance than the author who wrote the opinion piece to which I have just responded. - by Barry N Peterson on Thu, 02/20/2014 - 12:23am
  • Mega-Yawn! - by Leslie Davis on Thu, 02/20/2014 - 12:54am