Four who entered council race this week have first or last names similar to DFL-backed candidate’s.
Four new East African candidates filed papers this week to run for a Minneapolis City Council seat in the Sixth Ward, where longtime Council Member Robert Lilligren is locked in a fierce fight against another Somali contender who won the DFL endorsement in April.
The newcomers all happen to have first or last names similar to the party’s endorsee, Abdi Warsame.
Warsame suggested that surrogates of Lilligren were behind the slew of new candidates to confuse voters in the ward, where the boundaries were redrawn through redistricting to include many more East African immigrants.
Two candidates who were reached for comment Wednesday denied that. One of them immediately withdrew after filing Tuesday with little explanation. One of the two candidates who could not be reached listed an address that a reporter could not confirm exists after visiting the site and checking with the tax assessor’s office.
Lilligren said Wednesday that while he doesn’t recognize any of the names on the list, his Somali supporters approached him after the redistricting last year — and up to about six months ago — and asked if it would help him to have more Somali candidates running so their vote would be split.
“They said, ‘It’s better if you have more Somali opponents, right?’” said Lilligren. “So they could have been doing something to recruit people into the race, but not to my knowledge … There’s no law against it.”
The race offers the first realistic chance of a Somali immigrant winning election to the City Council, whose racial composition has not kept pace with an increasingly diverse city. Large East African crowds packed the ward’s DFL caucuses and convention this spring, vastly outnumbering supporters for Lilligren and endorsing Warsame after the council member dropped out of the endorsement process. Lilligren and another Somali candidate, Mahamed Cali (who also filed to run for office this week), alleged to the DFL that Warsame’s backers were using intimidation and political hardball to win, but the party did not find evidence of wrongdoing.
Abdulahi Mahamud Warsame, who filed an affidavit of candidacy Tuesday, abruptly withdrew the same day and called it a “mistake” in a phone interview the next day.
He paused at length when asked several times why he had gone to City Hall to submit the paperwork at all. He said he filled out the form, realized other candidates had similar names, and “I thought that would be confusing.” He said he told the city immediately he was dropping out and that the whole matter took 15 minutes.
Abdi Addow, an accounting consultant, said he filed to run this week “because I think I can unite this community.” He said he didn’t announce his candidacy earlier, in advance of the caucuses and endorsing convention, because those events were all a show. He added that he doesn’t know Lilligren, though he knows of Abdi Warsame.
“Governor Dayton was not endorsed by the DFL and he’s the governor … it didn’t make any sense to waste a lot of time and so I said, ‘OK, let me wait,’” said Addow.
Another new candidate, Abukar Abdi, did not return messages. He listed an address on the 2200 block of 10th Avenue S. that did not appear to exist. A fourth contender who filed papers this week, Sheikh Abdul, also did not return calls.
Abdi Warsame said he found the events amusing, while Abdi Addow noted there are many Abdis in their community.
“Abdi is a common name for a lot of Muslim people,” he said.
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210