The hotly contested state House race between Minneapolis DFLers Phyllis Kahn and Mohamud Noor has been in the news quite a bit recently, but not in flattering terms candidates would welcome.
In February, a Cedar-Riverside caucus ended early because of a brief melee between supporters of the candidates. Later, Kahn filed a complaint against the Noor campaign for voter fraud. That turned out to be more a result of confusion about use of a mail center than purposeful deception.
In April, at the DFL endorsing convention, challenger Noor successfully blocked an endorsement, forcing a primary race between the two. And in July, the state Supreme Court sided with Kahn in a dispute over an election judge who made biased comments to early voters in favor of Noor.
Somewhat lost in all of that unsettling publicity is that the race is a contest between two able, hardworking campaigners with some similar progressive views. And because District 60B is solid DFL territory, the Aug. 12 primary will likely be the election.
Longtime incumbent Kahn wins the Editorial Board endorsement. In more than 40 years in the House, she has contributed mightily to state policy and has earned a 22nd term. The Yale-educated, Ph.D. in biophysics moved from out East to the Midwest years ago to be a professor at the University of Minnesota.
She later sued the U for discrimination against women — among the first of many stands she’s taken on gender equity issues. Her science background has been an asset. She authored Minnesota’s Clean Indoor Air Act and has been a leader on numerous environmental issues.
But she’s not just running on decades-old accomplishments. More recently, Kahn played a critical role in passing the Women’s Economic Security Act and has provided good leadership as chair of the Legacy committee. At age 77, she remains actively engaged and indeed excited about making life better for her constituents and all Minnesotans.
During her tenure, District 60B has become one of the most racially and economically diverse areas of the state. Running along the eastern side of Minneapolis, the densely populated district includes the U, Cedar-Riverside, East River Road, Nicollet Island East and Seward neighborhoods. Some refer to it as “three S’’ area — short for Somalis, students and seniors.
As the East African immigrant population grew, Kahn embraced the issues and concerns of that community. Earlier this year, for example, she helped stop the closure of several immigrant-owned child care centers. And during the last round of redistricting, she supported boundary changes in her districts that gave more political clout to Somalis and other new Americans. As a result, she retains significant Somali support.
The veteran lawmaker has also been known to advance outrageous proposals — often in an effort to make her colleagues think more broadly about issues. Years ago, she suggested allowing 12-year-olds to vote, later revising the proposal to age 16. On this page 14 years ago, the Editorial Board called Kahn sometimes outrageous and offbeat — and sometimes right. On balance, she’s been an effective legislator who works with colleagues in both parties to get things done.
Noor is a 36-year-old Somali immigrant who often speaks about living the American dream and describes his passion to help others succeed. After arriving in the United States in 1999, he worked his way through college and earned a computer science degree. He worked for 14 years in IT and social services with Hennepin County and the state of Minnesota and is currently director of the Confederation of Somali Community. He is also an appointed member of the Minneapolis school board.
Noor says he respects his opponent but believes he is better suited to address the district’s changing needs and demographics. His priorities would include closing the education opportunity gaps, promoting social and environmental justice, and supporting state investments to build an economy that works for everyone. He is well-versed in education and human services, and his technology skills would help inform many legislative decisions.
Noor would make a good legislator and should continue to seek elected office. However, in this race he has not made a convincing case to unseat the more experienced incumbent.