Somali Americans become political force

7:03 PM, Nov 5, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - Somali Americans once denied democracy in their homeland, now are uniting in hopes of electing their own in Minneapolis.

The city is home to the nation's largest concentration of Somali Americans and many of them are exercising their right to vote and run for office.

"Pretty excited, this is first time we have three to four Somali people running for different things," said Bosteya Jama, who works for the Confederation of Somali Community.

She spent the day educating people about ranked-choice voting.

Nearly 6,000 Somali Americans live in the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood and they hold a key in Minneapolis' 6th Ward with a high-profile council race.

Abdi Warsame is facing incumbent Robert Lilligren for a council seat and could be the first Somali American to serve on any city council in the country. And in Ward 9, council candidate Abdi Abdulle faces the same potential.

Other active races include Said Maye, who is running for Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner, and Hashim Yonis, running for at-large Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner.

"I was motivated. I saw young candidates from my community trying to bring about change in this great city of Minneapolis," said Mohamed Abdi, who spent the day campaigning for Yonis.

Some leaders in the community estimate voter turnout could top 80 percent. Just more than 1,600 people in Ward 6 already cast absentee ballots before election day, around the same amount of absentee ballots cast in the entire 2009 election, with 1,619 ballots cast that year.

"We expect a large number of the community to vote. I think the major issue we have is jobs and economics. We want change. Whether it is jobs, youth activities, programs all that," said Jama.

Last-minute campaigns stretch across the Somali mall on 24th Avenue, but many say it's not just about standing up for one of their own.

"We are not just voting because we see Somali candidates running for it. We want to see improvement in Minnesota. We want to see Minneapolis improvement," said Rayan Abdi, who is campaigning for Warsame.

In two decades, immigrants searching for freedom have now become a political force.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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