Elections 2020: Minneapolis Ward 6 City Council. NOT A PRIMARY.

Abdi Warsame, the former Minneapolis City Council rep for Ward 6, resigned in March to lead the city’s Public Housing Authority instead. There is a special election, and on August 11th (the same day as the primary) Ward 6 residents will have their election for this open seat. They will be using ranked-choice voting so there is no primary. Voters will get to rank three candidates, and the August 11th election is the actual election.

The winner will serve for one year, then (presumably) run for re-election in 2021.

There are 12 candidates on the ballot.

AK Hassan (DFL)
AJ Awed (Independent)
Michael P. Dougherty (DFL)
Mohamoud Hassan (DFL)
Nebiha Mohammed (DFL)
Suud Olat (DFL)
Jamal Osman (DFL)
Sara Mae Engberg (Humanity Forward)
Alex Palacios (DFL)
Saciido Shaie (DFL)
Joshua Scheunemann (Green)
Abdirizak Bihi (DFL)

I used a couple of major sources for this analysis. Mshale, the African Community Newspaper, sent out questionnaires and compiled the responses. The Seward Neighborhood Group held a Zoom town hall for the candidates, which you can watch here. The League of Women Voters held an in-person event that you can view here. I watched both and took notes, and will refer back to them as the SNG event and the LWV event in candidate writeups.

One of the things that makes this race sort of complicated to analyze is that everyone says most of the same stuff about what they believe. Everyone is in favor of affordable housing, culturally-competent addiction treatment, listening to the concerns of residents, and public safety reform. It’s in the details that the differences show up — which is why websites that say things like “we have to change policing in Minneapolis” or “everyone deserves affordable housing” make me so impatient.

One final note: there are a lot of candidates here and I can guarantee you that I missed stuff, for which I apologize in advance.

Let’s start with the people we don’t need to worry about!

Michael P. Dougherty (DFL)

That’s not a campaign website, it’s literally a funeral home website, and the address on his affidavit of candidacy is the funeral home address. Not sure if this is the most ill-advised marketing strategy of all time or what. He did not attend the SNG town hall but did show up for the LWV. On the policing question he focused on empathy for cops, said “pragmatism” about 20 times, and added absolutely nothing.

Sara Mae Engberg (Humanity Forward)

The only website she has is a Facebook page, and there’s very little information on it. She did come to the both town halls, which is why I know she’s a Yang Ganger and that’s why she ran. I was not super impressed.

Mohamoud Hassan (DFL)

Hassan has a URL on his materials, but it’s not functional. When I went looking for his campaign Facebook, I was thrown by the fact that he spells his name “Mohamud” on his campaign Facebook page, while it’s “Mohamoud” on the ballot — I checked, and it’s also Mohamoud on his affidavit of candidacy. He “declined to participate” when sent a really basic campaign questionnaire. He didn’t show up for either of the town halls. He last posted to his Facebook a month ago. I don’t think he’s actually still running.

Joshua Scheunemann (Green)

If you’re a leftist, don’t vote for the Green, vote for AJ Awed (more on him later). Joshua’s website provides some principles but no actual plans, and much of it is in an utterly illegible font (as are all the printable materials he provides). He has merch galore, though, if for some reason your life would be improved by a bean bag chair printed with WARD 6 JOSH FOR CITY COUNCIL in an illegible lime green font. I looked him up on Twitter and discovered that he had pursued and gotten endorsement from Jesse Ventura, though I don’t see any confirmation of this from Ventura’s feed. (Anyone who’d pat himself on the back for being a Green who supports free college tuition for all, then go to Jesse “if you’re smart enough to go to college, you should be smart and creative enough to pay for it” Ventura for endorsement is not someone who knows what they stand for or what anyone else stands for. Even more when they don’t appear to have sought endorsement from the Green Party member currently serving on the City Council.)

The candidates who are running actual campaigns and might have momentum (I have been struggling to tell) but really didn’t impress me all that much:

Nebiha Mohammed (DFL)

Unlike most of the other people in the race, Nebiha was born in the US (to immigrants from Somalia — she grew up in NYC). She served in the US Army in early adulthood; she’s now the single mother of eight-year-old twins.

She describes herself as a small business owner and I was curious about the specifics, so I checked her LinkedIn. She lists the job “Program Manager” at HealthGuard Partners (a home health care agency) from January 2020 onward; from 2016-2019 she lists herself as founder of “Project Women Empowerment Corp,” in NYC, which is weird because her website says she moved to Minneapolis in 2016 and started a small business in 2017. I still don’t know what the small business is that she owns and I find that perplexing because she mentions it so frequently.

When I first checked out her website, her issues page mentioned only one issue — youth employment — followed by the slogan “Not Me, Us.” She’s now added social/economic justice, affordable housing, and small business support, but nothing here really stands out. If she has any notable endorsements, I couldn’t find them.

Suud Olat (DFL)

Suud Olat works for the “Congressional District Leader ONE.org campaign,” which is an anti-poverty group. My initial notes say “has the same platform as everyone else.” He was at both of the town halls and didn’t say anything that really stood out to me, although he got cut off (due to running over time) while talking about the importance of training the police differently; my sense from that and from his website is that his goals for changes to policing are fairly modest (although in the LWV town hall he talked about how just changing the name to “Public Safety” from “Minneapolis Police” was not any sort of real solution, something I wrote down because … yeah).  If he has any notable endorsements, I couldn’t find them.

ETA: After I put this up Suud Olat got in touch with me to send some supplementary information. He has endorsements from Abdirashid Ali Ahmed (a community leader in the East African community); Robin Chandler Carr, an immigration attorney; Faisal Roble, the principal city planner of Los Angeles; and Jibril Aw Mohamed, an African Studies professor from Ohio state. Suud had an op-ed about global poverty published in the Star Tribune in 2018. There’s an interesting piece about him that ran in the St. Cloud newspaper, which notes that due to Trump’s anti-immigration policies he’s been unable to reunite with his wife, who is still living in Kenya.

People Running Who Definitely Could Win But I Don’t Like Them:

AK Hassan (DFL)

AK Hassan currently serves on the Park Board and has significant name recognition, major endorsements, and legit political experience. But, okay.

  • Former Ward 11 City Council candidate Erica Mauter says he’s “disinterested (at best)” on the Park Board and notes that Nick Espinosa is working on his campaign. (ETA: Another member of Minneapolis Twitter says that she texted AK and he says Nick Espinosa is not working for his campaign. If there’s a way to see with any certainty who’s working on a campaign, I haven’t found it, which I’ll just note has been frustrating to me, repeatedly, because of this sort of thing.)
  • Fellow Park Board member Chris Meyer said  (back in 2019 when AK was running for Park Board VP) “AK could choose to become well prepared for all those things, but he hasn’t done so yet. He skipped most of the orientations hosted by Superintendent Miller and the MN League of Cities. If he ever reads the agenda packets, there hasn’t been any evidence of it. The only time he’s cared enough about an issue to lobby me on it was to push for us to sell a piece of parkland in my district in order to build a parking lot, and even then he no-showed to the meeting that took quite a bit of staff time to prepare.”

According to a multiple people, AK Hassan misses a lot of meetings, fails to turn up for key votes, is unprepared when he does show up — he is not doing the work, right now, to represent his district on the Park Board. I don’t think he’d be good on the City Council.

His positions (from his web page) look generally fine. I’m not super thrilled that his homelessness agenda focuses so strongly on shelters — shelters definitely play a role, but there’s a reason that a bunch of people are camping in the parks right now, and that’s partly that shelters really suck to live in. I would, given the option, probably rather camp in a park than live in a shelter even if there weren’t a pandemic.

He has a shit ton of endorsements, including from Angela Conley, someone I generally like. He could absolutely win this but I really think there are better choices.

Five Candidates Worth Seriously Considering:

Abdirizak Bihi (DFL)

Abdirizak Bihi (or Bihie — his name is inconsistently spelled, he’s Bihi on the ballot and most of the places I’ve found his name but Bihie on his website) is a long-time neighborhood activist and community organizer who got a bunch of news coverage a few years back for doing anti-radicalization work with Somali youth. What made me really like him was seeing him in the town halls. He is someone with really deep, long-standing connections within the Cedar-Riverside community.

Per his Twitter, he was a Hodan Hassan and a Bernie Sanders supporter. Browsing through his Twitter I also ran across a radio show he did last December to talk about the connections between antisemitism and Islamophobia and the importance of the Somali and Jewish communities working together.

His past experiences include helping people find jobs and affordable housing, including recruiting a lot of young Somali adults to get CDLs and get jobs driving buses and trucks. On affordable housing questions, he was one of the people who broke down what he was talking about to differentiate between housing that’s sort of broadly considered affordable and public housing where your rent is guaranteed to be no more than 1/3 of whatever your income is, and emphasized the need for housing that served the truly poor.

One of the excellent questions asked during the LWV forum (which had a truly outstanding moderator) was how people were planning to work with other members of the council and various stakeholders in the community to accomplish their goals. Abdirizak talked about how some years back there were conflicts happening between African American and African immigrant youth and he invited Al Flowers to lunch and they talked about solutions (it was a rather lovely story). He’s someone whose solution to problems is outreach, as much as possible. I really liked him so much, which I was not expecting when I sat down to watch the forums.

AJ Awed (Independent)

When I see “Independent” as a party affiliation in Minneapolis, I tend to read it as “Republican but running in Minneapolis.” That is not the case here. AJ identifies as a Democratic Socialist, and I’m guessing they didn’t let him put “Democratic Socialist” on the ballot because there are weird rules about using part of a party name (this came up for the Bitcoin guy who ran for mayor — back in 2013 they wouldn’t let him use “Farmer” as one of his words unless Democratic and Labor were the other two.) AJ probably should have gone with “Socialist.” He is the smartest, sharpest truly left-wing candidate I think I’ve ever seen run in Minneapolis.

AJ Awed is a former high school dropout who turned his life around at a community college and went on to become a lawyer. He’s a police abolitionist and was super clear about that during both of the two town halls I watched. His platform has a mix of specifics on what this would look like (demilitarize and disarm the police) and stuff that’s a lot more vague (“Completely eliminate ‘death by police’ incidents by implementing a new model of policing that is fit for purpose and better serves people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and other oppressed groups” — I would like this better if he talked at all about what his vision of a new model was. He does talk about a civilian-staffed alternative to 911 that would help de-escalate stuff, and diverting perpetrators of minor offenses into therapy instead of jail, all of which is good. All the serious candidates are talking about some version of defunding; I think AJ is the one who is most committed to the idea of abolition.)

I think all the serious candidates also want rent control. In the SNG town hall, AJ brought up the fact that it’s pretty standard to say that rent control would be great but we have to wait for the legislature to change the preemption rule in order to have it. He said that if you read the statute, that’s not true — Minneapolis could impose rent control by holding a referendum. Here’s the the statute. And … he sees to be correct? “Subdivision 2. – Exception. Subdivision 1 does not preclude a statutory or home rule charter city, county, or town from controlling rents on private residential property to the extent that the city, county, or town has the power to adopt an ordinance, charter amendment, or law to control these rents if the ordinance, charter amendment, or law that controls rents is approved in a general election.”

(I am really dubious about rent control. But I understand why it’s as popular as it is, especially in neighborhoods threatened by gentrification/displacement, which is true for a lot of Ward 6.)

One issue I’ll raise is AJ’s position on privatization, although I’m mostly going to gesture incoherently at a couple of different articles. There’s a federal program called “Rental Assistance Demonstration” that is either a doorway to turn public housing into overpriced condos OR a clever strategy that basically uses MPHA but in a funny hat in order to wring more money for public housing out of the feds. The WedgeLIVE article about this did not leave me feeling any less confused. Anyway — AJ is solidly on the side of “this is bad and we are going to be cheated out of our public housing.” (His approach to this is really confrontational.)

One of the really excellent questions during the LWV forum was a follow-up to a discussion about the Africa Village project (a proposed development project in Cedar-Riverside that’s been very controversial, which AJ does not support) — how will you give ward residents a voice in development decisions? AJ said he’d work with neighborhood associations and bring people together for meetings to reach consensus. I actually wrote “oh you sweet summer child” in my notes, because … controversies over development are always a clusterfuck and consensus is a pipe dream, I live in the neighborhood with the Ford site, don’t get me started. (But just to be clear, it’s not like anyone else had a good answer to this. There isn’t really a good answer to this. Figuring out what a broad cross-section of your constituents actually want, in time to do that instead of some other thing, is really surprisingly hard, because a lot of the time, they just aren’t paying that close attention to what’s under discussion until they realize that there’s a plan afoot that they hate.) 

He has endorsements on his Facebook page; they’re all regular people, as far as I can tell.

I am concerned that he would chronically let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you want a really strong leftist voice on the City Council, though, he might be a really good top pick for you.

Alex Palacios (DFL)

Alex Palacios is a formerly homeless person who has recovered from addiction and talks about this on their website. (Alex uses they/them pronouns.) They work for the Aliveness Project. What I like about their website: they talk specifically about the need for accessible housing. (There are an awful lot of proposed solutions to homelessness that take it for granted that homeless people are not physically disabled, which is a hell of an assumption, FYI.) What I do not like about their website: they do things like advocate for “a viable city identification system” without explaining what they mean. (Municipal ID. They want municipal ID. I spent several minutes staring at that line thinking, “…we need to identify Minneapolis? as what? to whom?”)  (Being able to make a good, understandable case for their goals is a critical skill for a politician.)

I was a lot more impressed by their communication skills watching the town halls. In particular, early in the SNG forum there was a question about gentrification where they made the really excellent point that neighborhoods getting nice things like the light rail and the Greenway should not be a bad thing. “Those were built for us.” The problem is displacement.

As someone who’s worked in mental health and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, they have significant expertise in public health, which would be a real asset at the moment. They are endorsed by Stonewall DFL and OutFront Minnesota.

Jamal Osman (DFL)

Jamal Osman works for CommonBond, which is a local affordable housing nonprofit. I like CommonBond; they seem to me to do good work in a sustainable way. Not surprisingly, he has a lot of expertise on affordable housing and mental health.

I couldn’t find any endorsements on his site (other than a group of “Somali community elders” on his Facebook page) but I’ve heard that he was Abdi Warsame’s preferred candidate.

He has an ethical statement on his Facebook page that made me wonder who he was subtweeting. (He says no one. He just wants people to know that these are his ethical principles.)

Saciido Shaie (DFL)

Saciido Shaie ran earlier this year in the special election for the 60A legislative seat. State House District 60A and Ward 6 do not actually overlap; she moved at some point between January and April. She’s the founder of the Ummah Project, which is trying to build a community center. (She talked about that some at one of the forums — it is difficult, as a teenage girl who wears a hijab, to find opportunities for exercise and participation in sports. She wants to build something like the YMCA, but Muslim. I live near the JCC, which is like the YMCA, but Jewish; this seems like an entirely reasonable idea.) She’s also served on the statewide Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and various other state and local committees and task forces.

I liked her in January, but her campaign didn’t seem to be going anywhere. She seems to have significantly more momentum this time, a beautifully produced video ad, and an endorsement from (former State House rep from 62A) Karen Clark.

So. Who would I vote for if I were ranking three? I think I would go for:

  1. Abdirizak Bihi
  2. Saciido Shaie
  3. Alex Palacios

If you’re still feeling at sea but can find time to watch one town hall, the LWV town hall really is excellent: they get through a wide range of topics in two hours and the moderator asks some really good questions that go beyond the “what’s your position on X?” stuff where they almost all sound the same. Questions included “how will you give residents a voice in development decision?” “How will you reach out to the Native American community?” and “How will you work with the rest of the Council and other stakeholders to get things done?”



7 thoughts on “Elections 2020: Minneapolis Ward 6 City Council. NOT A PRIMARY.

  1. I think I know what they mean by “municipal ID,” but that’s assuming they mean the same thing as New York City–that the city should issue ID cards to people who don’t have/can’t get state ID, to give them something to show when asked to identify themselves. If I recall correctly, this was connected to the city issuing pharmacy discount cards that were literally, pick this up from a stack at the pharmacy counter and then show if for a discount on prescription drugs.

    This seems like it would work better in New York than in most other cities, because of size (both that there’d be more chance of getting a “what is this thing anyway?” in a smaller city, and that enough is done by/through New York City agencies that even having something to show them–the Board of Education, Health Department, and MTA for discount passes for the elderly come to mind, and most cities don’t run a Health Department large enough to report flu statistics to the CDC separately from the rest of the state.

    I don’t remember whether this got off the ground, though.

  2. Bihi’s anti-radicalization work extends to collaborating with the FBI. I don’t know as much about what happened here in Minneapolis, but in New York the FBI’s anti-terrorism work targeting Muslims amounts to entrapment in many cases. We need less of the FBI, less surveillance, less of the police in our communities. He’s a hard no for me.

    • I agree with you. As soon as I heard he worked with the FBI on CVE and putting young people in prison for life for thought crime, that is a hard no for me

  3. I’m assuming you’ll be adding “a bean bag chair printed with WARD 6 JOSH FOR CITY COUNCIL in an illegible lime green font” to your next Gifts For People You Hate guide? 😉

    • Because Republicans who want to win races in Minneapolis don’t admit their party affiliation, since Minneapolitans are overwhelmingly disinclined to vote for the party of racism, homophobia, police brutality, disease promotion, and Trump?

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