Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak on Thursday waded into a heated battle between two fellow Minneapolis DFLers, endorsing Mohamud Noor for longtime state Rep. Phyllis Kahn’s seat.
The endorsement is one of Rybak’s first forays into local politics since leaving office earlier this year. It’s sure to shake up the race, which has already exposed tensions within the city’s politically active Somali-American community.
Noor would be the first Somali-American to ascend to the Legislature, but Kahn has support from Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame, the most prominent Somali-American elected official in the state.
Kahn is a State Capitol stalwart, having been first elected in 1972. Her district includes the heavily Somali Cedar-Riverside area, as well as broad swaths of the eastern riverfront up to just north of Hennepin Avenue.
Noor is a relative newcomer by comparison. The executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, he was recently appointed to replace the late Hussein Samatar on the Minneapolis school board.
The race has already been full of surprises, from Noor’s candidacy to a caucus event that ended last month with a chaotic altercation between activists.
In a statement, Rybak said Noor is a good listener, a quality that’s especially important in a district with so many diverse communities. “Mohamud Noor is our best choice for bringing all our voices together — in debates at the Capitol and in the community — and getting us working together for the common good,” he said.
Rybak and Kahn have had many political differences in recent years. In 2012, Kahn penned an op-ed for MinnPost comparing the then-mayor to Richard Nixon for his wavering stance on stadium subsidies. Rybak signed onto a letter in 2012 asking for Kahn to apologize for saying “someone at the city should be executed” for Election Day voting lines. In 2011, they were on opposite sides of a debate over the Neighborhood Revitalization Program.
“I think he’s just showing that he keeps grudges and keeps them up,” Kahn said on Thursday about Rybak. “I’ve had distinct policy differences with him, all of which I think I was right on.”
Rybak currently leads Generation Next, a group that aims to close the Twin Cities educational achievement gap. He credited Noor with being a leader on education.
“He will quickly be a leader at the Capitol on critical issues like early childhood development, college access, and school funding and improvements,” Rybak said.
On early childhood education, Kahn noted that she is sponsoring a bill this session that extends maternity leave and accommodations for pregnant and new mothers.
Regarding Rybak’s statement that Noor was a good listener, Kahn quipped, “I guess Noor is a good listener because he has hardly anything to say. It’s easy to be a good listener if you don’t have anything to talk about.”
She has racked up many high-profile endorsements of her own. They include Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and Education Minnesota, among others.
The endorsement is not Rybak’s first appearance in the race. Just last month, he was a convener of the rescheduled Cedar-Riverside-area caucus that came in the wake of the activist fight at the Brian Coyle Community Center.
In a statement, Noor said he is honored to have Rybak’s endorsement.
“He has been an inspiration to me in my political career and I look forward to building on his progressive legacy in Minneapolis and Minnesota,” he said.
The party’s endorsing convention for that Senate district is April 5 at DeLaSalle High School.