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As Hodges appoints Somali liaison, Latina council member laments "missed opportunity"

Posted by: Maya Rao under Politics and government Updated: February 5, 2014 - 3:26 PM

Mayor Betsy Hodges recently announced the hiring of a liaison to the Somali community in a nod to the group’s growing importance in the city: the number of citizens born in East Africa has jumped 53 percent to 14,497 in the last decade.

Yet she said nothing about Latinos, whose population is more than triple that amount.

“I think it’s a little bit of a missed opportunity,” said Alondra Cano, who was elected as the first Hispanic council member in November. “It’s such a big population and it’s been such a vital part of making Minneapolis thrive.”

Even before her campaign, Cano voiced interest in increasing Latino involvement at City Hall, noting that the group has taken more interest in state and federal government because they are involved in broader immigration issues.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kate Brickman said Hodges promised during the campaign that she would hire a Somali liaison to address the community’s particular needs on education, safety and housing.

“She feels that the community is at a really important juncture … and needs special attention from the mayor and her staff,” said Brickman, adding that the mayor’s office is also not finished hiring.

Minneapolis saw a groundswell of political involvement from East African immigrants in the past election, when they elected Abdi Warsame to represent the City Council’s sixth ward. Warsame and his supporters, however, allied with mayoral runner-up Mark Andrew.

Abdirahman Muse, the liaison hired by Hodges, will also work with the labor community. The mayor’s office said he worked for three years as an organizer with the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Minnesota, helping pass a bill granting collective-bargaining rights to home-care workers and organizing opposition to the proposed voter-ID amendment in November 2012. Muse and other union members were active in her campaign, and he introduced her to members of the Somali community.

Muse has worked as an organizer for nearly a decade on labor, immigrant rights and economic justice, according to the mayor’s office.

“I will be a voice for all the minorities in the city,” the 32 year-old Whittier resident said in an interview. He said he wants to work with them on creating more jobs and affordable housing, improving schools, and making the city safer.

“To be a Somali is an asset,” Muse said, “but I’ll be working on the same agenda the mayor has when it comes to closing the gap” between minorities and whites in jobs and education.

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