Minneapolis mayoral candidates seek support of Somali community at forum


More than 170 Somali-Americans gathered to hear five Minneapolis DFL mayoral candidates on May 31 at Safari Restaurant & Banquet Hall in Minneapolis.  Appearing on a stage wrapped in stars and stripes, candidates Betsy Hodges, Don Samuels, Gary Schiff, Jackie Cherryhomes and Mark Andrew put forth their political cases to win the community’s vote.

Some candidates mixed Somali sentences into their introductory remarks. Samuels described his arrival in New York City as an immigrant from Jamaica more than four decades ago to study industrial design and with only $83 in his pocket.

“I know what it means to have to adjust to the culture, to be understood,” Samuels said. “Part of my agenda is certainly to help the adjustment of the immigrant community.”

The candidates responded to questions from moderators Mustafa Jumale and Ilhan Omar, about unemployment in the city, discrimination in the workplace, education disparity, and youth and homeless issues.

“I will continue to support job training programs and the expansion of job training programs for our people,” said Andrew. “I will also continue to work on the successful record I had in Hennepin County in actually hiring more communities of color and more diverse populations into the Hennepin County workforce, which we were successful doing.”

Like Andrew, other candidates echoed that creating job-training opportunities and removing regulatory codes at the city hall are important for the community’s growing small businesses in south Minneapolis to thrive.

Plans for youth issues

Since many young people of the community are in jail, have been detained or deported to Somalia for crime-related reasons, the candidates were asked about their plans on the city’s youth issues.

“When children don’t have hope, they think that a gang will provide them with opportunity,” said Schiff. “But that is not true. I will fight to make sure that every child has the opportunity to be safe in the streets of Minneapolis and to be safe in the community.”

Cherryhomes, a mother raising her 16-year-old in north Minneapolis, said that she too is concerned about her child the same way Somali parents are concerned about their children.

“We need to have programs that invest our youth,” Cherryhomes said. Programs should not be developed through bureaucrats only, but in “partnership with the community, with the parents, youth organizations and the young people themselves.”

Hodges noted that the city of Minneapolis has “a lot of programs” that address youth issues.

“We’ve a plan to end homelessness,” she said of the city. “We have a youth violence prevention plan. We’ve youth opportunity centers that are available for young people.”

She added: “The critical question tonight is, are all of those plans and are all of those programs serving the Somali community well? Are our Somali young being served really, really well by each and every one of those plans? Are we doing enough?”

Hodges then emphasized the importance of having someone who will particularly work with the Somali c0mmunity in these programs and plans. She said that she would hire a Somali person, who will serve as “a liaison to the community and will be the eyes and ears” for her in the community, and for the community in the mayoral office.

Justice for the community

Somalis in Minneapolis have long complained about discrimination in the workforce and expressed concerns about bad relationships with the law enforcement. The community has accused authorities of wrongdoings including police harassment and excessive parking tickets around the community’s religious sites. 

Schiff, a city council member representing the Ninth Ward, south and east of downtown Minneapolis, said that he knows about the parking tickets and harassment the community has faced. 

“Abubakar As-Saddique mosque in my ward came to me with complaints that during prayer times everybody who came to the mosque got parking tickets,” he said. “I worked to make sure that that harassment stops. And today there are no longer parking tickets handed out to people who go to Abubakar As-Saddique mosque.”

Cherryhomes said that police harassment is unacceptable and has no place in the city. She promised to reinstitute a civilian report where people who feel harassed, intimidated or not treated right by the police will have an opportunity to get their issues met.           

“Citizens need to have a safe place to redress their grievances against the police,” she said.

The event was sponsored and organized by the DFL Somali-American Caucus and Safari Restaurant and Event Center.

Abdirahman Ahmed, owner and manager of Safari restaurant, told the crowd that the candidates are “proven leaders and important friends” to Minneapolis Somalis—and they will always remain so, no matter who takes the mayoral office.

“We all share something in common, which is the American dream,” he said. “And that’s what brings us together.”

Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.