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He found work as a computer technician, first with the state teachers union and then with the Hmong American Partnership in St. Paul. And he became known for his organizing skills, helping on campaigns to promote the Hmong, fight health care cuts and defeat last year’s voter ID and marriage amendments.
Thao promised more living-wage jobs, public safety funding, affordable housing and education. “I told my team to be honest and put ourselves out there, and if the community wasn’t ready for what we wanted, it’s OK,” he said.
The hard work begins
An attorney and former investigator for Minneapolis’ civil rights department, Yang, 37, ran for the Hennepin County Board last year but lost to Linda Higgins. He decided to try this year for the North Side council seat vacated by Don Samuels, who ran for mayor.
Thao and Yang competed for but failed to win DFL Party backing (the party wound up not endorsing in either race). Both ran in wards with large African-American populations, against black candidates with strong backing.
Within the Hmong community, Yang’s victory was considered the bigger surprise. The Hmong in St. Paul are thought to be more politically potent and sophisticated than in Minneapolis, where the community is smaller and has had less of an impact.
“There’s been a feeling that if you’re going to get ahead in politics, you should move to St. Paul,” Kong-Thao said.
Both candidates reached well beyond the Hmong community for support. But Yang, with a smaller Hmong bloc to draw upon, made a point of targeting Somalis, East Africans, Hispanics, Lao, Vietnamese.
“Candidates typically go after traditional voters, but we sent three mailers to every home in the ward, we door-knocked every single inch, did three lit drops and attacked the whole ward,” Yang said.
For both men, the hard work of governing now begins. Mayor Chris Coleman, in welcoming Thao to the City Council, had a little tip for him.
“We work best when we just agree with whatever I want, and as long as we do that we’ll have no problems,” he said.
Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035