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Minneapolis DFL caucuses reflect changing demographics

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: April 17, 2013 - 11:45 AM

By Eric Roper and Maya Rao

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 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 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 United Nations 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 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,” said Warsame, 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 Hofstede button, Mohamed Barre volunteered to be a delegate for both 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.”

Jeremy, Laila and Gabriel Fink

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.

Already veterans

They’re already veterans. “We bring them to caucuses but not conventions,” said father Jeremy, who spoke as a surrogate for mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges. She drew seven city convention delegates in the East Harriet precinct, part of her ward, but Mark Andrew, who lives in the precinct, topped her with nine. Seven undecided delegates advanced, but the only other caucus, for Gary Schiff, didn’t draw enough for a delegate.

The precinct filled out only 54 of its allotted 99 delegates to the ward convention that will endorse a successor to Hodges, meaning delegates did not have to declare a candidate preference.

Seeking change on North Side

At North High School in the Fifth Ward, the theme was more about making a difference through community participation than it was about touting candidates. From ward to ward, residents aired grievances and looked for solutions to poverty and crime on the North side.

“I’m done with complaining. It’s about changing my neighborhood. I want my kids’ kids to be safe in this neighborhood, and I have to be part of the process,” said first-time delegate Dana Smith, 51, who is undecided. “A lot of us think our vote doesn’t matter, but in order to make changes, you gotta be part of the changes.”

Dorothy Robinson, 70, has been a delegate for more than three decades for one reason: “Change. Change in our community for the better. Better things to come.”

She knows who she’s voting for but she’s not telling. Although she wore a T-shirt showing support for City Council candidate Brett Buckner, it didn’t necessarily tip her hand.

“I collect these,” she said.

Staff Writers Abby Simons and Steve Brandt contributed to this report.

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