Election 2020: Special Primary, State Representative District 60A (analysis)

District 60A, which is mostly Northeast Minneapolis but also includes a little bit of Southeast, is having an election on January 21st. (Not sure if you live in 60A? You can find out here.) To be clear: January 21st is the DFL Primary, and it’s also almost certainly where the next representative for 60A will be decided. There is a general election on February 4th; the only non-DFLer running is Marty Super of Legal Marijuana Now.

Whoever wins will serve in the upcoming legislative session, then (presumably) run for re-election in November of 2020 for a full two-year term.

This is a really rough time of year to be running a special election. People tend to be busy and distracted in December; it’s also likely to be cold/snowy/sleeting/just a terrible time of year to go out and door-knock. There are also eleven candidates.

Here’s who’s running, with links to websites. 

Piyali Nath Dalal
Mohamed Issa Barre
Sydney Jordan
Saciido Shaie
Zachary Wefel
Susan Whitaker
Aaron Neumann
Jessica Intermill
Aswar Rahman
Amal Ibrahim
Sonia Neculescu

Other useful information you can find online:

  • John Edwards of WedgeLive sent out a questionnaire to the candidates, and most responded; you can find all their answers here.
  • The DFL held a candidate forum on January 11th. Everyone attended except for Mohamed Barre. You can view it on Facebook: Part One and Part Two. Part One, you probably want to skip about 20 minutes in to get to the actual forum. There are some sound issues early on but they got straightened out pretty quickly.
  • Another forum was held on January 13th. It’s also on Facebook; you can watch it here. All eleven candidates participated.
  • The local DFL also requested that the candidates all fill out a questionnaire with some detailed questions about their beliefs and policy ideas. Everyone other than Mohamed Barre completed the questionnaire, and you can find their answers on the Senate District 60 DFL site.

My analysis (but first, an analysis of how I’m analyzing people) below the cut.

These candidates are running for a single, short legislative term. (I mean, they’re also running to be the incumbent in November of 2020. But they all know that their opportunity to serve might be very, very brief.) If you had one term to serve in the State Legislature, what would you try to get done? I e-mailed all the candidates and asked, if they could pick one piece of legislation to advance, what would they do? (I got answers — good answers! — from most of them.)

After going through their experience, positions, etc., I also made an effort to assess their campaigns, because if I’m voting for one of eleven candidates (most of whom are reasonably credible!) I want to try to choose between the candidates who are likely to win. One note on this: I don’t live in 60A. So I’m not seeing yard signs, I’m not meeting door-knockers at my own door, my assessment of their campaign has come (by necessity) from looking at the information the candidates are putting out.

What I looked for, in assessing campaigns:

  • Are they recruiting volunteers?
  • If so, so they have volunteering events scheduled that I can find on either their campaign website or their Facebook page? Stuff like “door knock with [name],” “phone bank for [name],” that sort of thing.
  • If so, does their Facebook page include photos of some of those groups of volunteers? Is there reason to believe that people are showing up for their events?

In a race like this, having people out door-knocking for you matters a lot because in any weirdly-scheduled special election, a huge percentage of potential voters don’t even know there’s an election happening.

I absolutely don’t think anyone should feel remotely obligated to vote strategically. But if I were voting in this race, it’s something I would be taking into consideration, and I’m trying to provide that information for the people who want it.

All that said: I’m going to split the candidates into three categories. (1) Candidates I just straight up would not vote for, for one reason or another. (2) Candidates who seem like they’d be solid representatives, but whose campaigns don’t look to me like they’re going anywhere. (3) Candidates who I think have a real chance of winning.

Candidates I Just Straight Up Would Not Vote For

Aswar Rahman

Aswar ran for mayor in 2017, was strikingly bad at math,  and dropped out to do a reality TV series. In July 2019 he was launching a jeans company.

On his website, he talks about wanting to lower taxes and hire more cops so weirdly, if you’re a Republican in 60A, he might be your guy. (I mean, you’re not going to have a Republican to vote for in the general, and even if you did, they wouldn’t win.)

He didn’t reply to my question. He did fill out the DFL questionnaire but there were a bunch of questions he punted on, saying he wasn’t familiar with the issue and would need to learn more. (FYI, questionnaires are an open-book sort of thing! You can do some research on the spot while filling them out, no one’s going to know!) I would absolutely not vote for him.

(Campaign-wise, he ran a couple of “meet the candidate” events early in January, nothing recent or upcoming.)

Mohamed Issa Barre

I cut a lot more slack for irregular spelling and grammar on candidate sites when the person running is an immigrant. However, this:

However, my ULITMATE goal is to find solutions that will allow us to eliminate any form of Disparities know or unknown.

That’s very ambitious for a ten-month term, and is pretty typical for what’s on his website. In terms of potentially actionable goals I can find, he mentions a free daily meal for every kid in school and banning (maybe?) single-use plastic bags.

His answers on the WedgeLive survey were possibly even more vague. In response to a question about what specific housing policies he would push for, he responded, “Housing for all – it is my first task since having a healthy community means giving a roof for families and children.” Nothing there bears any resemblance to a specific housing policy.

I e-mailed him and got no response. I went to follow up, and couldn’t use the contact form on his website because it had a broken Captcha link. His banner has a Twitter link, but it’s to a nonfunctioning account. I tried his campaign Facebook, and got a response from someone on his campaign saying that Mohamed would get back to me soon, but I haven’t gotten a response. He also did not fill out the local DFL questionnaire, and he didn’t make it to the DFL forum. I would not vote for him.

Piyali Nath Dalal

Piyali seems like a very nice person and I think I would probably like her a lot if we met. I don’t think she has any prior political experience (when I asked her about it, she said her prior experience was volunteering-oriented) and she doesn’t offer a lot in the way of specifics on policy. For example, from her website, here’s everything she says about the issues facing 60A/the state in general that are important to her:

1) protecting the state’s most vulnerable populations
2) increasing affordable housing
3) providing quality childcare and education
4) protecting Minnesota’s natural wonders

She gives no other details on these. Everyone running wants to increase affordable housing — they differ on policy, on how they’d do this, not on caring about the issue.

Her answer to my question (If you could push forward one piece of legislation this term, what would you choose) was “either affordable housing or environmental protection,” which again, is an answer about priorities but not about how she’d pursue those priorities; her responses to the WedgeLive survey were also more about principles and less about how she’d pursue them. One of her weirder responses was “no comment” when asked about the Minneapolis 2040 plan — not having an opinion on this major local issue that you’re willing to share is an odd choice for a candidate for local office.

I think her heart is in the right place and there are absolutely people with comparable levels of experience who win legislative races and do fine. But 60A has a lot of choices where their heart is in the right place and they have significant political experience. I would vote for one of the other candidates.

(Regarding her campaign: her website mentions meet-and-greets but not door-knocks; she said in December she’d love volunteers but doesn’t seem to have much of an organization. Which is not at all surprising for a candidate without much prior political experience. Working on other people’s campaigns is part of how you make the contacts who then help you run your own, if you want to serve in elected office.)

Susan Whitaker

Susan Whitaker is a somewhat old-school neighborhood activist; her first involvement in public life was founding a neighborhood organization back in the 1980s. In response to my question, she said that her top priority would be to pass legislation to make quality health care available to all in Minnesota. I asked her to expand on this (because “available” is one of those very loaded terms that sometimes doesn’t mean what I would mean) and she said she supported John Marty’s Minnesota Health plan and wanted to move us toward single payer.

In looking for differences between her and other candidates, the thing that most struck me was that while she’s not exactly playing this up, she’s a lot more pro-car (or at least less anti-car) than many of her opponents. In her answers on climate, she talks a lot about green energy sources and a lot less about getting people out of cars. She’s a transit user and a transit supporter, but I could not find a single fleeting mention of bikes and bike infrastructure anywhere on her website or the answers to either the WedgeLive or DFL questionnaires. I like bike lanes; when a candidate doesn’t give a casual shout-out to bike infrastructure when talking about environmental or transportation policy, it makes me nervous.

I also see no events on her Facebook page since a “Carol with the Candidate” event back in December. I would not vote for Susan, even though she kind of reminds me of my Mom, who also founded a neighborhood organization in the 1980s (in Madison, Wisconsin) and also thought bike lanes were kind of overrated.

Candidates who would probably be fine, but their campaigns don’t really seem to be going anywhere

Saciido Shaie

Saciido Shaie was born in Somalia and immigrated to the US when she was ten. She’s the founder of the Ummah Project, which is in the process of trying to build a community center. She’s been involved in youth development and served on the statewide Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee.

Her issues page is still “coming soon,” but she does provide some fairly detailed answers on the WedgeLive questionnaire. She wants increased transportation funding (and free transit), rent stabilization, and for the state to make more of an effort to recruit diverse teachers.  She responded to my Facebook message asking what legislation she’d pursue by saying that one of her biggest priorities is stable and affordable housing. She’s a renter in NE Minneapolis and has seen her rent double in the last decade. “As State legislator I would work to pass a bill to empower local communities to stabilize rent prices for their residents.”

An article about the three Somali immigrants running for the seat mentions that Saciido first got involved in politics by volunteering for Paul Wellstone in 2002.

Her website has a link to sign up to volunteer, but her Facebook page has no door-knocking events or photos of volunteers. Also, her issues page is still “coming soon.” She seems like a fantastic community asset and she might be an amazing state legislator, but I don’t think her campaign is going anywhere.

Aaron Neumann

Aaron is a real estate agent and an arts advocate. He ran for City Council back in 2005, as a Green. He’s organized an Empty Bowls event. In addition to being a former Green, he’s also a former member of NORML (and yes, of course he supports legalizing weed, but I think every single one of the people running supports legalizing weed, that is entirely a mainstream DFL position at this point).

In response to my “if you could push through one piece of legislation” question, he initially said cash bail reform (something Loeffler was working on last session), then changed his mind and switched to HF 2836, the Minnesota Green New Deal. (“Why? Because it will have the biggest impact on our collective future and address a very serious and looming issue that our federal government has failed to address while creating the good-paying jobs of the future.”) He noted it was unlikely to get signed into law this year because the GOP controls the Minnesota Senate, but passing it in the House would put it in a good position for passage in 2021-22.

One thing that struck me (positively) about his answers to the DFL 60A questionnaire was that he knew which issues currently had legislation that had been introduced. One thing that struck me (negatively) was that he really, really, really likes exclamation points. Out of curiosity I checked everyone else’s DFL 60A questionnaire and found two people who’d used a single exclamation point at some point. He used 35. And, I mean, you might really like his enthusiasm? (It’s not like I never use exclamation points.)

He’s holding a lot of events — if you’d like to meet him, he’s doing a “meet the candidate” coffee hour every day. And he’s organizing door-knocking events. There are no photos whatsoever of a group of volunteers, though — just pictures of him with individuals who have endorsed him. I don’t think he’s got enough support to be a serious contender.

Zachary Wefel

Zach Wefel is a lawyer, probably best known for founding the Minnesota Tool Library  (here’s an article about the Tool Library.) He’s also served as the president of his neighborhood association.

Zach probably has my favorite Issues page of everyone running — he’s unusually good at turning common frustrations into actionable legislative items. For example, he wants to ban non-compete agreements; require utilities, internet providers, and subscriptions to provide a one-click unsubscribe option; prohibit police unions from writing obstruction of justice into their contracts; provide free remote access to court records. His responses to the WedgeLive questionnaire are similarly detailed (and I like that he mentions “walking, biking, or rolling,” as I have friends who use wheelchairs who get a little annoyed at being constantly overlooked as users of sidewalks and public amenities).

In response to “which one piece of legislation would you pass,” he said that he would fully fund Pre-K statewide (and if I’d let him tack on one thing, also fund wraparound services.)

I really like candidates with a lot of specifics, and also candidates who can answer questions in a straightforward way, and I like that about Zach. I also have to admit that I like Zach (I know him from Twitter).

He has been holding events — door-knocking previously, get-out-the-vote this weekend. (When I was working on this post last week, he had no upcoming events, but has now added his get-out-the-vote effort.) There is one photo of volunteers from early January, but it is a very small group. He’s kind of on the cusp, but my hunch is he doesn’t have enough support this time.

Candidates who seem like they have a real chance of winning

Amal Ibrahim

Amal is an immigrant from Somalia and works as a professional interpreter. She’s lived in Northeast Minneapolis since 2012. Her prior political experience includes college activism and a group that organizes volunteers to flip swing states and districts.

Amal is one of the two DSA candidates in the race. (Sonia got the DSA endorsement; Amal is endorsed by Our Revolution Twin Cities. Jessica filled out the Twin Cities DSA questionnaire and aligns with a number of DSA values but I wouldn’t call her a DSA candidate.)

In response to my candidate about what legislation she’d most like to see passed, Amal said she’d remove the state preemption law that prevents municipalities from passing rent control.

Here’s the thing I saw from Amal that concerned me: when I watched the forum, she seemed to be a very uncomfortable speaker (which I find really surprising given that she’s a professional interpreter). The first question, she was the first candidate to answer, and she had to lean over and ask the person next to her to repeat the question. She lost her train of thought several times and tended to keep her eyes on the table in front of her like she was reading her responses (which she couldn’t possibly have been doing, but that’s what her body language looked like, someone who was reading her speech because she couldn’t do it from notes.) “Good public speaker” is not the most important criteria for a candidate for the state legislature, but communication skills are important, and there are a lot of good candidates in this race. I would not vote for Amal.

In terms of viability, she’s another candidate who I think is on the cusp. Our Revolution is campaigning for her, which ought to help. But their events are all join Amal/Bernie, so if you want to door-knock for Amal but you’re an Elizabeth Warren supporter it’s not clear to me if that’s an option. She has a photo of volunteers who went out to door-knock for her, though, so that’s something.

Sydney Jordan

Sydney Jordan has worked as a lobbyist and organizer for various progressive groups, including the Minnesota Federation of Teachers and (currently) a group lobbying for protection of the Boundary Waters.

She responded promptly to my e-mailed question, and said that if she could pass one thing, she would fully fund special education and English language learner instruction, with a goal of eventually fully funding E-12 education at the state level. (“E-12” is not a typo — the E stands for Early and includes things like ECFE and public Pre-K.) She noted that the current funding model is unjust, disadvantages schools with higher numbers of ELL and special education students, and exacerbates the divides in the state. She finished with: “Representative Diane Loeffler was the chief author of HF 1897 which seeks to remedy this billing inequity and I would be honored to continue her work in the Minnesota House by signing on as an author of this bill and start working for its passage on February 11th.”

Things I like about this answer: it is specific, actionable, there’s a specific piece of legislation she’d work on, and it would be a good idea.

On her WedgeLive questionnaire, asked about a time before her candidacy when she felt strongly about a political issue and took action, she talks about getting involved as a college student in the 2012 fight against the two bad constitutional amendments. I liked her answers on housing: her approach to affordable housing emphasizes building more, by reducing regulations that discourage housing construction, spending more on public housing, and including zoning legislation (which would require affordable housing to be part of market-rate developments). She also talks a lot about improving transit/bike/pedestrian infrastructure rather than pouring money into car infrastructure, and proposes a sales tax that would be devoted to non-car transportation infrastructure.

Her website touches on a lot of other issues (she’s in favor of legalizing weed, she’s in favor of bail reform, etc.) Basically: very solid progressive, although there are some left-wing positions she doesn’t take. (She wants affordable tuition, she doesn’t set tuition-free college as the goal; she’s not pushing for rent control. I’m OK with those positions, you might not be.)

Her campaign is solidly viable. She has Labor endorsements, an endorsement from Jacob Frey, and multiple pictures of volunteers.

Jessica Intermill

Jessica is a lawyer who advocates for tribal nations. She is also chronically ill with Rheumatoid Arthritis and talks about this in many contexts, but particularly her interest in health care issues. Her pick for “if you could push through one piece of legislation” was patient-centered single-payer health care.

When I watched the video of the forum, I liked her a lot. There were a couple of things that particularly struck me: when asked for three priorities, her first was health care but her second was marijuana legalization, specifically because it was something she’d heard people talking about as she was door-knocking. (Her third was fully funding public education in order to untie it from property taxes.) The other thing that struck me was that in response to a question about serving under-represented communities, she talked about listening to what people told you they needed (and connected this to her work as an attorney for tribal nations).

In her DFL questionnaire she says she’d like to see “Oregon-style” rent stabilization. She wants a tuition freeze at the U of M but doesn’t suggest trying to reduce tuition to $0.

She’s endorsed by OutFront Minnesota and by several labor unions, and has an active campaign with a mix of phone banking, door knocking, house parties, and meet-and-greets; she has pictures of volunteers and of people who’ve come to house parties to meet her.

Sonia Neculescu

Sonia Neculescu is a recent college graduate whose background is a mix of political stuff (campaigning, organizing, legislative intern) and service jobs (she works or has worked as a waitress/bartender.) She helped found a group called Women for Political Change while still a student, and now works there.

She’s endorsed by the Twin Cities DSA, OutFront Action, and Stonewall DFL.

She wants rent control; free public transit; and to extend the right to vote to 16-year-olds and people currently serving prison sentences. (Lots of other stuff, too, but those stood out to me as less common than “legalize marijuana” and “support John Marty’s Minnesota Health Plan.”) Also, she wants a moratorium on new charter schools (like favoring rent control, that’s true of multiple candidates) but she also says on her website, “Stop open-enrollment school choice programs by fully-funding public schools and transitioning them to full-service community schools.”

I asked her about that last one — does she mean she wants to get rid of magnets? (Minneapolis is currently discussing getting rid of magnets.) Or no longer letting kids open-enroll into other districts? (Right now if you want to move your kid to a suburban school, and there’s space and you can drive them, you can enroll your kid wherever.) Her response: “Kids should be able to go to a quality school in the neighborhood they live in. However, I am in favor of magnet schools and city wide open enrollment. When we increase taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans and equitably fund education, inter-district open enrollment, which has led to more racial and economic segregation, will not be a necessary choice for parents to make.”

In response to my question about the one piece of legislation she’d pass, she said she would lift the ban on rent control and pursue a statewide renter’s Bill of Rights and comprehensive rent stabilization package.

She’s running a strong campaign — lots of events, which include a mix of meet-the-candidate stuff and also a wide range of volunteer opportunities including door-knocking, text-banking, and phone banking. She has multiple pictures of volunteers.

So, OK.

This is a hard race to fully analyze because there are so many candidates, and some of the research I wanted to do (like, literally go to NE and Como and drive around to see if I saw any signs) I did not have time to do. (I am finishing this post from out of town, lolsob.) I imagine that this is just as true for the residents of 60A as it is to me. I did hear from one person who printed out every 60A DFL questionnaire and attacked it with a highlighter pen (!) to fully analyze her options. I have not done that.

If I were voting in this race, I think I would vote for Jessica Intermill. Disabled people are a significantly underrepresented marginalized group in legislatures generally. I like her combination of professional and lived experience. I don’t agree with every one of her stances but I really like the fact that she’s someone who strongly values listening — at the forum, she talked about prioritizing pot legalization in part because it was so important to many of her future constituents, and she talked about the importance of asking marginalized groups (and specifically tribal nations, which she works with professionally) about what they think they need.

If you live in 60A, please choose someone you like, and go vote for them on Tuesday!



3 thoughts on “Election 2020: Special Primary, State Representative District 60A (analysis)

  1. Whew. You don’t know how relieved I am to get your take on this! I was kind of baffled by the long menu. Thank you for continuing to do this for districts other than your own… I’ve found myself voting a straight Kritzer ticket for a while now.

    Judging by the amount of paper that’s landed in my mailbox, Jordan is the mailing list leader: SIX postcards. One each from Intermill, Shaie and Ibrahim (plus one door-knock for Intermill.)

    Save the Boundary Waters has an office upstairs from my work and they are kinda noisy. I should probably not treat that as relevant though.

  2. I have two “Facebook Friends” acquaintances that are running and so I KNOW that skews what I see (Piyali married husband’s HS friend and has kids that we play summer soccer with, Aaron lives down the block and used to be married to a family friend). I’ve been stacking the mailings (Will look tomorrow). I have a post-it sticker on my door from someone… My school board rep texted me to ask if I’d decided yet and I still need to say, “nope! what do YOU have to tell me?” But I like that you have reasons for some choices. =) Tricky stuff.

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