Changing face of Minneapolis is evident in caucus attendance

  • Article by: MAYA RAO and ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: April 17, 2013 - 11:25 AM

East African immigrants were a strong presence at many DFL caucuses.

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The changing face of Minneapolis stood out Tuesday night as thousands of voters met in their neighborhoods to decide who will represent the DFL Party at its conventions this summer.

The meetings are the first test of strength in the race to determine who will succeed Mayor R.T. Rybak, and an early indicator of which City Council races are the most competitive. All 13 council seats are up for grabs, with three entirely open because their occupants are running for mayor.

At neighborhood centers and schools across the city, residents volunteered to be delegates at the city conventions that determine DFL endorsements. Campaigns will spend the next several months trying to sway them, though many expect that the DFL will not endorse anyone in the mayoral race.

The caucuses themselves offered few concrete indicators of which campaigns were ahead, since there was no central tally of which delegates supported specific candidates. Results were limited Tuesday night, but preliminary reports from party members suggested that turnout was high in a ward straddling the central riverfront, another representing Uptown and a third that runs along Franklin Avenue — all of which have competitive council races.

Some of the dozens of caucuses had large numbers of East African residents, who voiced enthusiasm for being part of the democratic process. Many candidates gave their speeches in Somali. And motions were made to recess briefly to observe Muslim prayers. Here’s a look at some of the precincts with the most delegates:

‘Take responsibility’

Hundreds of East African immigrants gathered at the Sixth Ward’s third precinct caucus hailed Tuesday’s caucuses as a great day for them to participate in American democracy and possibly elect one of their own to the City Council. The south Minneapolis ward, which some estimate is about 40 percent East African, follows Franklin Avenue and reaches into Cedar-Riverside.

Elderly women in bright scarves, young political activists and a U.N. official who flew in from New York spoke of their support for Abdi Warsame, a council candidate of Somali descent whose speech to a crowd at the Brian Coyle Community Center evoked stand-up applause and cheers.

“The best way to participate in American democracy is to come out and become a delegate for your neighborhood and take responsibility for your area,” Warsame said, before launching into the rest of his speech in Somali.

Mahamed Cali, another council candidate, also rallied the crowd in Somali.

Council Member Robert Lilligren told the community that while he hasn’t represented them yet because a new redistricting map shifted ward boundaries last year, he’s helped make their streets safer and their communities stronger.

There were more people than the 69 ward delegate slots available, and the enthusiasm was so strong that at times speakers could barely be heard over the din. Some expressed strong support for mayoral candidates Gary Schiff, a council member, and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew.

‘We want … to understand’

The basement of Eastside Neighborhood Services in Northeast’s Third Ward was musty and warmed by a standing- room-only crowd of attendees, about 100 in all. More than 30 of them were members of the city’s East African community — many women in hijabs bearing campaign buttons.

Wearing a Diane Hofstede button, Mohamed Barre volunteered to be a delegate for the city and ward conventions. “As we are a new community, in the future we will leave our children here,” Barre said. “And we want … to understand the system, how it works.”

The precinct selected about 100 delegates without any discussion of their political preferences. Much of the debate revolved around whether people who attended the caucus should have priority to be delegates over those who merely wrote letters and did not attend.

Seeking change on North Side

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  • Hundreds of people crowded into the gym at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis to participate in the Sixth Ward’s third precinct DFL caucus Tuesday night. Participants raised their hands to show their interest in being elected as a delegate to the Sixth Ward convention.

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