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Longtime foe attacks Lilligren with last-minute fliers

Posted by: Eric Roper under Politics and government Updated: November 5, 2013 - 7:13 PM

Updated: 7:12 p.m

By Eric Roper and Maya Rao

A political action committee affiliated with Basim Sabri is behind inflammatory fliers distributed in South Minneapolis disparaging Sixth Ward Council Member Robert Lilligren, who is locked in a tight race with Abdi Warsame.

The fliers were condemned by Warsame, who said his campaign had nothing to do with them. They were stuck on car windshields and otherwise littered around Stevens Square Tuesday afternoon.

“He should retract it and should apologize. He should not have used my name,” Warsame said Tuesday afternoon, referring to Sabri, a developer who went to prison for bribing a city council member.

If Sabri had personal grudges, Warsame said, that’s between him and Lilligren. Warsame said his campaign would post a statement opposing the ad on its Facebook page.

The two-sided leaflets encourage people to vote for Warsame, who is waging an aggressive campaign that could make him the highest-elected Somali politician in Minnesota.

One side says: "Why you SHOULD NOT vote for incumbent R.L.?" and makes a number of broad allegations about Lilligren, including: "Anti-minority, poor, and elderly benefit programs."

A Star Tribune reporter picked up one of the fliers after a reader highlighted the issue on Twitter.

Sabri said Tuesday evening that he has donated to the group and supports their efforts. But to blame Warsame, he added, is unfair. He said neither he nor the PAC ever consulted with or contributed to Warsame, and that he doesn’t even know the candidate personally.

“Anybody who ran against Lilligren would get my support … If Hitler ran against Lilligren, I personally will support him," Sabri said.

The Lilligren campaign said they have heard reports about the fliers appearing in the Ventura Village, Stevens Square and Phillips areas overnight.

“It’s unfortunate that our candidates and their supporters feel the need to go so negative here at the end," said Lilligren campaign manager Trista Schwind. "But we really have faith that the voters will select who they want to represent them and we’ll see that in our results tonight.”

Sabri, who was convicted of bribery in 2004, has a longtime vendetta against Lilligren, even showing up at the April endorsing convention to hurl insults at the council member as he was leaving.

The fliers say they were created by "Power by the People," which is chaired by a relative of Sabri who shares an office address with him.

Police looked into a Sabri connection in 2009 after similar "postcards containing false allegations" about Lilligren were distributed prior to Election Day.

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