Election 2021: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 6

Ward 6 includes Cedar-Riverside and several other neighborhoods with a lot of immigrants. It’s currently represented by Jamal Osman, who won a special election in 2020 to replace Abdi Warsame after he resigned to lead the city’s Public Housing Authority instead. There were twelve candidates a year ago; now there are two. Abdirizak Bihi was also on last year’s ballot. (He was dropped on the second ballot. AK Hassan made it one more round, then AJ Awed made it one more round past that. Both Hassan and Awed are running for other offices this year — Hassan to be re-elected to the Park Board, Awed for mayor.)

This has been an extremely strange year to learn the job of City Council rep. Jamal Osman notes that he has not yet gone to an in-person City Council meeting.

On the ballot:

Jamal Osman (DFL)
Abdirizak Bihi (DFL)

Neither has the DFL endorsement.

tl;dr after a whole lot of waffling I decided on Osman, but I think undecided voters should read the post to see if they agree with me. ETA: after some late-breaking news I’m going to say I have no idea who I’d vote for. (For a full update you can scroll down to the boldfaced “I AM NOT SURE WHERE TO EVEN START.”)

This is one of those races where the candidates are very ideologically similar, so let me just do a roundup of information I found and the points where they differ.

Osman (but not Bihi) filled out the LWV candidate survey. One of his comments on transit caught my eye as focusing on something a lot of candidates overlook: “I think it is very important that we prioritize making all the intersections in the city ADA compliant. Many of the East Africans I represent have mobility issues, some are our oldest neighbors, some have had no real health care for decades as they were refugees, but they all deserve to get around the city and we have lots of intersections with dangerous and inaccessible curbs. Replacing those will take time and a lot of money, but it should be a priority, it’s also necessary to help people get to transit.”

Bihi (but not Osman) responded to the one-question questionnaire from the Minnesota Women’s Press. Asked about public safety, he advocated for adding mental health professionals, social workers, and medical professionals to the model of policing (as well as regular cops). “We have seen our MPD respond too often to nonviolent crimes and be overwhelmed with the volume of calls they receive.”

Osman (but not Bihi) responded to the Pollen Voter’s Guide. He has an interesting observation about policing, and the fact that so many police officers have quit in the last year: “The opportunity presented by being able to hire several hundred police officers to replace those that have left recently is probably the best chance at reforming a culture and identity in the Minneapolis Police Department that has been endemic for years. Those officers need to represent our communities, not view themselves as some righteous occupiers protecting us from ourselves.”

Both are covered in the Star Tribune voter’s guide. They both support rent control but Bihi’s focus is on avoiding loopholes and getting it done ASAP; Osman, who co-authored the rent control charter amendment, favors it but sounds like wants to move more cautiously to avoid pitfalls.

They’re also both covered in the Star Tribune’s endorsement piece (the Strib endorsed Osman), where Osman says he supports the public safety charter amendment, and opposes the strong mayor amendment; Bihi says he supports the strong mayor amendment, and the Strib said he “declined to share his stance on the public safety charter amendment” which is weird because on his website he says “The structural racism that exists in the M.P.D makes it impossible for any fundamental reform to happen. That’s why we need to dismantle the department and create an equitable, unbiased, agency which protects Minneapolitans unconditionally, with courage and compassion. However, we also have to prioritize the safety of our citizens and their property in the process.” Which sounds like an endorsement of the public safety charter amendment?

In that same Strib piece, Osman takes a really emphatic position against the strong mayor charter amendment. From the piece:

Osman opposes the charter change, saying giving the mayor more governing power over the council will be a “disaster” to addressing all of the needs of the Sixth Ward, which includes the neighborhoods of Cedar-Riverside, Elliot Park, Phillips West, Seward, Stevens Square and Ventura Village.

[…]

“This office means everything to immigrants,” said Osman, who coauthored a contentious ballot question asking Minneapolis voters to give the City Council the power to adopt a rent control ordinance. “If the mayor takes all the power, then the mayor is not someone who will be accessible the way we are to immigrant communities.”

In a discussion on Twitter, @baharv89 contrasted two Facebook posts on the Franklin-Cedar encampment.

Bihi’s: “This morning I was at the Cedar and Franklin Ave homeless encampment that was being removed. I talked to an activist. He told me people are offered to go to different shelters and might go. Some won’t go to certain shelters and might move on to other encampments. Mental health and other issues are mentioned and noted. Homelessness and mental health are important issues that we need to prioritize.”

Osman’s: “Today the City of Minneapolis is closing the encampment around Franklin and Cedar. Getting to this point has required the coordination of several different governments. Never an easy task. This encampment has gone on too long and I can only acknowledge and apologize to my constituents whose lives have been disrupted and who have been the victims of criminal acts and violence. The folks living in this encampment are there for many reasons. The city and our government and non-profit partners have been working intensively for the last 10 days to engage with every camper and try to find solutions to get them off the street. There are people who will not accept housing or services, and they will go join or start another encampment. Minneapolis is a statewide draw for homeless people. We need the help of all of our government partners to get through this. A special thanks to the city staff, the outreach and social service workers, the public works crews, MPD, and every other partner who has participated in this process.”

Bihi’s sounds less aggressive toward unsheltered people, although I think it’s worth noting that it’s also kind of low-substance in general.

ETA: Osman has a longer post about homeless encampments here that’s more measured in tone. In terms of comparing responses to encampments from elected officials vs. candidates, I also think it’s worth noting that the people currently in office are actually in the position of dealing with the crisis. Encampments have been treated by all the different government entities like a game of Hot Potato where the goal is to shift blame (and the encampments, but especially blame) to someone else (and apparently part of the fun here involved the fact that it was county land but maintained by the city). There’s an interesting piece about the Cedar-Franklin encampment from the Minnesota Reformer: “City officials send them to the county — telling them the 10-foot median of Franklin Avenue is county property — and the county refers them to the city. County officials told Hobot they would clear the area, but don’t want to be the lead agency.” Anyway: there are a lot of city issues where it’s easier to sound like the better option when you’ve never actually had to make the hard choices to deal with whatever the problem is, and that’s particularly true with encampments.

Baharv89 also noted the two candidates snipe at each other a lot.

Bihi is endorsed by Stonewall DFL. I contacted Stonewall DFL to find out if they’d found any more substantive policy differences between the two candidates during their screening process, and got back a prompt reply: “We invited both Bihi and Osman to apply for our endorsement, and only Bihi responded. He was enthusiastic in seeking our endorsement and had a strong questionnaire and interview. Also at that point in the spring, Osman had not publicly supported Question 2 and seemed to follow Frey’s lead on policing issues and voting for extra funding, so it was a comfortable choice to endorse Bihi.”

At some point in the spring, Osman interviewed for an Operation Safety Now endorsement and received it, then repudiated it and is now listed on their website as a defunder.

There was so much back-and-forth over Question 2 during August and September, I can’t actually remember the sequence and Google is not helping me. In August, I think Osman voted in favor of new language, then abstained from a vote to override Mayor Frey because “an important part of the dialogue is bringing down the volume and temperature of the debate.” (The override passed without him.) Then it got tossed by a judge and they had to pass new language in September, which passed 12-1. MPR doesn’t say in that article who the 1 was, but I’m guessing not Osman. (Why do so many news articles about contentious votes tell you they passed by 12-1 or 9-4 or whatever without telling you who voted which way? Is that not obviously newsworthy? WTF.) ETA: The override failed but then they passed new language that he voted for. Also, the outlier in the 12-1 vote was Lisa Goodman.

The tidbit I found about Osman that actually made me like him the most was the long, detailed response he sent to constituents unhappy about his vote against the East Phillips Urban Farm Project proposal (which I went into some detail on in the Ward 2 post). There are four screenshots per tweet and four tweets (it was long)1 2 3 4

Explaining an unpopular decision is hard work and not a lot of fun. I am undecided on the EPNI project — there are City Council reps I like, and City Council reps I dislike, on both sides of that particular vote. What I really appreciate here is that he conscientiously answers every argument he’s heard and really does his best to make a case for his stance to people he knows aren’t all that interested in hearing it — he very clearly listened, still disagreed, and put in the time and effort to explain why. That’s actually something I appreciate. (I think he did a much better job defending his vote here than he did on his refusal to help override Frey’s veto in August.)

After I posted about the Ward 6 special election in 2020 someone chimed in in the comments to say that Bihi’s involvement in CVE and collaboration with the FBI were a dealbreaker for them. You can read more about that here (2011) and here (2015). I think it’s clear that his intentions were good and his motives were really understandable (his nephew ran away and joined Al-Shabab and died a few months later; Bihi became really obsessed with keeping kids from being radicalized.) It does suggest a certain willingness to assume that law enforcement will behave reasonably.

Having made it this far, tonight I found a forum sponsored by the League of Women voters and watched it (it’s here.) Some highlights:

Osman said in his opening statement that he had deliberately not joined either side on public safety (progressive or establishment) and had instead been a swing vote.

Bihi, asked directly about Q2, absolutely did not say how he was voting. He said that regardless of whether it passes or fails, he wants Minneapolis to have enough police officers, as well as mental health providers.

On policing questions generally, Osman emphasized recruitment of Black officers. Bihi emphasized adding mental health providers.

Bihi is a big fan of the strong mayor charter amendment and from his answer, I think his hesitation on the public safety amendment is the “fourteen bosses” thing, he thinks the mayor should just go ahead and be the boss of everyone.

Anyway.

I think I would vote for Jamal Osman. I liked his answer on the strong mayor charter amendment, I liked his willingness to give a detailed explanation for his vote on EPNI, and there’s a learning curve with City Council work (like with any job) and it seems like a shame to throw that away. I am, however, very glad that Bihi has run a strong race, because I think that may have pressured Osman to side with the progressives on some key votes. I like Bihi a lot (hence my endorsement of him last time) but especially given how short this term is (everyone’s serving a two-year term, then we re-district and people run again in 2023), it’s a particularly bad time to sacrifice on-the-job learning without a compelling reason and I don’t see a compelling reason.

ETA: I AM NOT SURE WHERE TO EVEN START. This Sahan Journal piece gives a good roundup. To summarize: someone sent out an e-mail to a bunch of people in the ward saying that Bihi has a DUI and domestic violence history. (Per Sahan Journal: “He has two convictions over a ten-year period for driving while intoxicated. The message overstated the number of convictions and also cited a separate case that was dismissed.”) This person was not with Jamal Osman’s campaign but a lot of people assumed it was his campaign that had sent the message. Osman then sent out an e-mail blast saying that this was not from his campaign; the message also gave enough information that if you hadn’t gotten that first e-mail you’d know it was at least related to drug/alcohol stuff. (“I personally do not approve of the release of these documents. Mental health and substance abuse are complex and personal issues and I hope my brother Bihi is getting the help he needs to stay healthy.”)

Then yesterday, a local U of M prof, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, got what initially looked like a robotext message supporting Osman’s campaign, and sent back a slightly pissy response. The person argued, claimed to be Jamal Osman (I feel really confident in saying that this absolutely was not Jamal Osman), said that they had Ilhan Omar’s endorsement (she’s endorsed Bihi), and finished off by sending her a dick pic. You can see screen shots of the whole exchange (minus the actual dick pic) here.

The Sahan Journal did some digging and found that Wrigley-Field’s number isn’t even in the DFL database — this was almost certainly not Osman but some group supporting him (same as the e-mail). But Osman really did not handle this well. In an interview earlier today, he said that Wrigley-Field “is not a big fan of me,” and added, “I’m not even sure if she’s legitimate about this complaint. If not, it’s kind of sad. If it is, she shouldn’t be treated that way.”

Sleazy garbage from someone, not actually a candidate, with opinions on a Council race” is a pretty common late-stage scandal in local election years and nearly always creates problems for the candidate it’s supposedly “helping.” But you do have to respond to it.

I feel like the e-mail about the e-mail about Bihi was okay: the intent was to send it out to people who’d gotten the first (not sent by his campaign) e-mail. (Also, honestly, if he wanted to make an issue of the DUIs in this campaign, he could? I think they’re a legitimate thing to talk about. These records are public and “has a history of drunk driving” is an absolute dealbreaker for some people.)

If someone claiming to be you sends someone a dick pic, that’s honestly a less complicated problem to respond to because it is, in fact, a violation of both of you, and you can just be vocally horrified. You can promise to check on whether it was someone within your campaign or using campaign resources (like VAN, the voter database used by the DFL) and say you’d like to get to the bottom of it even if all you’re able to do is say, “well, we share your horror and all we know is, it wasn’t anyone here.”

(I’ll just note as someone who’s done text banking — if you get a hostile response you’re supposed to just end the conversation and take them off the list. You are absolutely not supposed to (a) pretend you’re the candidate when you are not, (b) claim you have endorsements you don’t, (c) google-stalk the person you’re texting with and bug her about her tweets, or (d) argue for a long period of time with someone who’s made it clear she doesn’t intend to vote for you. And, I mean, do not send dick pics. OBVIOUSLY.)

“That person has criticized me on Twitter and might be lying about the whole exchange” is a really bad response! I sympathize with the fact that they’re probably really sick of doing clean-up for this unauthorized group or individual who’s trying to “help” and making them look bad, but when someone claiming to be your candidate sends someone a dick pic, you need to start from a position of “that’s horrifying” and not from a position of “how dare you blame us.”

Anyway. Would I still vote for Jamal Osman? If I were voting in Ward 6 I’d probably hold off until election day and see what else broke late, honestly.


Did you know that I had a book released this April? Chaos on CatNet is a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and takes place in a future Minneapolis. Signed copies are usually available from Dreamhaven and from the current mail-order-only incarnation of Uncle Hugo’s. Books make great holiday gifts, but should be ordered early this year — Tubby & Coo’s bookstore explains why.

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded. My readers have now helped buy a refrigerator for the school nurse at Olson Middle School, outfitted 8th grade Algebra students at Olson Middle School with binders to stay organized, bought a 3-D printer for students at Humboldt high school in St. Paul, equipped a classroom at Whittier with an air purifier, bought a pug mill (a clay mixer that allows you to reuse dried-out clay) for art students at Andersen United, bought copies of We Are Not From Here for North High students to read in 9th grade English class, and funded snacks for kids at Jefferson and Lucy Laney. Here are some other worthwhile fundraisers for high-poverty Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools:

A teacher at Green Central Elementary would like a book/curriculum set that covers “themes such as racism, cultural identity, homelessness, immigration, gender and sexuality, and social activism.” (Your conservative aunt on Facebook who scaremongers about “critical race theory” would keel over in horror at this one.)

A first-year teacher at Bryn Mawr would like a variety of classroom supplies, including individual dry-erase boards, a big easel, a classroom rug, a selection of books, and some educational games.

Two elementary teachers at  Folwell would like help providing a mid-morning snack to their students.

Two science teachers at Washington Technology high school in St. Paul would like learning materials for their chemistry classes: glassware and microscopes, and equipment that will allow students to “see how adding nanoparticles to a conductive solution affects voltage.”

And a different kind of school fundraiser:

Kaytie Kamphoff is a special education resource teacher at Patrick Henry High School and the co-director/producer of Henry Drama Club. (Christopher Michael is her co-director and their full-time theater and dance teacher.) She initially asked for funds on Twitter just so the Henry Drama Club could stage a couple of plays this year. Ms. Kamphoff has now set her sights higher: she’s hoping to raise enough to run a summer theater program for Northside kids, free for participants, paid for the recent grads/Drama Club alums who work. You can donate to her by Venmo or Paypal: Venmo is Henry_DC and PayPal is Kaytie.Kamphoff@gmail.com. Note “Henry Drama Club” in the memo and if Paypal insists you need the last four digits of her phone number, it’s 5548.

Her Twitter thread is solidly worth reading if you’d like some heartwarming stories of the transformational power of theater in the lives of high school students.

6 thoughts on “Election 2021: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 6

  1. YES, the consistent lack of detail around who actually voted what way drives me nuts. (And when I am so curious I actually seek out the answer, it’s frustratingly difficult to find ANYWHERE.) Just wanted to echo you on that particular point and thank you for your service in general!

    • Interesting. Possibly the driving here is literal; there might be someone organizing a regular shuttle from Cedar Riverside Towers over to the early voting office — when you have a pocket of really high density it makes it easier to do stuff like that.

  2. As a resident of Ward 6, it’s hard to imagine who I’ll vote for–IMO both are pretty terrible candidates. A friend in the Somali community alerted me that Bihi was closelyh involved in the FBI’s CVE program which surveilled and entrapped Somali youth in made-up anti-terrorism plots. He is also apparently widely known for being found passed out drunk on the street during last year’s race.

    On the other hand, I’ve observed Osman voting against that minimal reduction of police funding, being *extremely* unprepared at neighborhood meetings, and unresponsive to efforts helping increase BIPOC vaccinations in our neighborhood. His canvassers who recently came to our house have said how important it is to have MORE police, so I think his current position on Question 2 is probably irrelevant. Not interested in any more of an incompetent council member whose politics I don’t agree with.

    I wish AJ Awed was running in this Ward again. Would support him 100%.

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