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Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a 42-year veteran of the State Capitol, walked away from her party’s convention Saturday without an endorsement, setting up an August primary to determine the fate of her Minneapolis seat.
The lack of an endorsement was a victory for supporters of challenger Mohamud Noor, many of them Somali-Americans, who chanted and lifted Noor on their shoulders after the convention was adjourned. “I deeply respect Representative Kahn, but I think they have spoken that there’s a time for change,” Noor said. “And I think we are moving towards that change.”
Noor mustered enough support to prevent Kahn from winning the necessary 60 percent support of the DFL convention at DeLaSalle High School. Kahn led on all five rounds, but her supporters eventually backed a motion to adjourn after some people began leaving.
“I’ve won a lot of primaries,” Kahn said following the adjournment. “So I know how to run a primary. I know how to get the vote out.” She attributed the convention result to poor caucus night turnout in some key precincts.
The district represents many eastern neighborhoods in Minneapolis, including Cedar-Riverside, the University of Minnesota, Prospect Park, Nicollet Island and Seward. The race has attracted significant attention largely because of activism among the district’s Somali-American population, who turned out in major numbers Saturday.
Both candidates pledged during the day to bow out of the race if the other was endorsed. Without endorsement at the end of the night, however, the race headed to a primary on Aug. 12. GOP candidate Abdimalik Askar also will be on the general election ballot, though the district is among the most liberal in the state.
Kahn has represented the area since 1972, when she entered politics after suing the University of Minnesota over gender discrimination. At the Legislature, she has spearheaded limitations on public smoking, bicycle regulations and women’s rights, among other issues.
At 77, Kahn told the convention she is running again because she has the “ideas, the drive, the energy and the know-how” when issues affecting neighborhoods and Minneapolis come up at the Legislature.
Noor, 36, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, until recently held a systems management job for the state. He also was named to fill out a term on the Minneapolis school board.
“Today I can proudly say my family has achieved the American dream,” Noor said. He told the convention that access to quality higher education helped him achieve success in America, and highlighted the need for universal prekindergarten.
“We can demonstrate today that the DFL is serious about empowering new leadership,” Noor said. “As you see today, our campaign has helped to organize and has brought hundreds of new people into the DFL.” He said that these new voters could help re-elect Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken.
Before balloting, Kahn criticized Noor during opening remarks for not taking firm policy stands. “I have not heard of any time he has ever disagreed with anyone on any issue,” Kahn said. “Now, no one has ever accused me of being nice!”
Though she has faced challengers in the past, Kahn has had to work harder to ward off Noor’s aggressive run at her seat. She said recently they have done more door-knocking than before previous conventions. She later added: “I push, cajole and connive. I use and some say abuse the legislative process to keep our issues alive.”
Delay in getting results
The day began with registration at 9 a.m., but the first ballot results were not read until 3:30 p.m. The delay was partly due to problems during the credentialing of delegates and alternates, many of whom were new to the convention process.
Many Somali-American delegates carried blue T-shirts, or wore blue hijabs, in honor of Noor’s campaign color. The community’s interest in the race was evidenced by a 5:30 p.m. break for prayer.
The race had a tumultuous start in February when a Cedar-Riverside area caucus ended in a brief melee between activists. That matter is under review by the St. Paul Police Department.
Despite major turnout in several precincts, including two dominated by Somali-Americans, others such as two at the University of Minnesota sent a paltry number of delegates to Saturday’s convention.
The race has divided high-profile DFLers. Former Mayor R.T. Rybak, Stonewall DFL, the DFL Feminist Caucus and former Rep. Matt Entenza endorsed Noor’s bid. Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and City Council Member Abdi Warsame threw their support behind Kahn.