Abdi Warsame has the DFL endorsement in the Sixth Ward, but faces a tough challenge unseating incumbent Robert Lilligren. Alondra Cano won the party nod in the Ninth Ward, putting her in the driver’s seat for the job Gary Schiff is vacating to run for mayor.
The Somali-born Warsame is the best bet for a foreign-born candidate to win election to the City Council since Jamaican-American Don Samuels did so in 2003. Samuels won’t be back next year because he’s running for mayor instead. But another immigrant,, Thai-born Blong Yang, who is of Hmong ethnicity, is among those running for the Samuels seat.
Cano was born in Minnesota but she could also claim to be an immigrant. She was born to undocumented farm workers laboring in Litchfield, Minn., and lived there until age 2, when her family moved back to Chihuahua, Mexico. She returned at 10, when her parents returned to outstate Minnesota to work in poultry factories. She learned English in school, and mostly transitioned out of bilingual instruction within three years.
Samuels was the first immigrant on the council since Keith Ford, elected to two year terms in 1973 and 1975. Ford was 13 when his family left England, and 17 when it moved south from Winnipeg. He was elected 12 years later. Late Mayor Charles Stenvig tried to make Ford’s ancestry an issue during a 1976 budget dispute in which he compared the 10th Ward alderman to King George III and sniped that “England’s gain is the United States’ loss.”
Ford missed by two years overlapping with the previous immigrant on the council, “Pumpkin Joe” Greenstein, who served from 1961-1971 and was born in Poland. The North Side merchant earned his nickname by giving away thousands of pumpkins each Halloween.
It’s been 67 years, since the late 1940s, that two immigrants served on the council together. That factoid comes courtesy of Tony Hill, the political scientist and student of municipal history.
The most recent of two foreign-born mayors was Swedish-rooted Eric Hoyer, who served 1949-1957.
Sweden leads as the birthplace of foreign-born council members with 25, followed by 22 from Germany, including Prussia, and 19 from Canada.
The Minneapolis school board already has one immigrant and one migrant seated, with Somali-born Hussein Samatar and also Alberto Monserrate, who was born in the territory of Puerto Rico, which gave him U.S. citizenship
Photo: "Pumpkin Joe" Greenstein