A Somali-dominated DFL caucus that broke into chaos last week will be reconvened later this month at a new location with neutral conveners, including former Mayor R.T. Rybak.
The fracas at the Brian Coyle Center, which became briefly violent, was fueled by activists on either side of a political battle between Mahamud Noor and longtime state Rep. Phyllis Kahn. The precinct caucus, which elects delegates to an April convention, ended before any officers or delegates could be determined.
The new caucus will be held Feb. 19 at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union, across the river from the Brian Coyle Center, the previous location that’s in the Somali-heavy Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
One activist, Iddil Abdull, asserted that the location change will benefit Kahn since many Somali-American participants — who live on the west side of the river — are elderly or don’t own cars. DFL chair Ken Martin said both campaigns agreed to the move, which was necessary because the event would exceed Brian Coyle’s capacity.
“We got agreements from both of the campaigns. … They were both involved in the negotiations. This is not a decision that was unilaterally made by the DFL,” he said. “We didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. And we’re providing buses, spending thousands of dollars out of our own pocket to provide transportation from the Brian Coyle Center to the Coffman Union.”
Martin said they were told the Brian Coyle Center gym has a capacity of 350 people. About 375 people attended on caucus night, technically a fire-code violation.
Responding to the e-mail from Abdull, Kahn said she was the first to object to the new location. Ben Fribley, a representative of the Noor campaign, said Noor is “totally comfortable” with the new location.
“He thinks that having it at another site that can fully accommodate the number of people that want to participate is a positive thing for the process,” Fribley said.
The new caucus will have neutral conveners, since last week’s event broke down over who should control the event. They are Martin, former Mayor R.T. Rybak, former St. Paul City Council Member Melvin Carter and a Senate District 53 chairwoman Alberder Gillespie.
It will also require participants to present proof of residency, which does not necessarily have to be government-issued identification, Martin said.
Activist and City Council aide Ilhan Omar, who was injured at the first caucus, said the new location isn’t ideal for the community’s elders, “but I think it’s an amicable solution in safeguarding the integrity of the DFL process.”
Amano Dube, the director of the Brian Coyle Center, said the DFL called last week to inquire about renting the gym again. But when the DFL called back to confirm, it had chosen a new location.
A party news release said the event was moved because of “space constraints.” “I don’t know what turnout they are expecting and what they mean by ‘constraints,’ ” Dube said.
Dube could not be reached again for comment after Martin clarified that they were told the gym had a 350-person capacity.
Noor, who was recently appointed to the Minneapolis school board, is a relative newcomer compared with Kahn, who was first elected in 1972. They are vying to represent a district that includes Cedar-Riverside and a wide swath of southeast Minneapolis.