Hussein Samatar

Hussein Samatar

If Mayor R.T. Rybak isn’t running for another term as mayor, Hussein Samatar says he’s ready to run.

The first elected Somali immigrant in Minnesota is ready to blaze another first. Samatar made history when he was elected unopposed to the school board in 2010 from a district covering one-sixth of the city.

Samatar would potentially be competing with two more experienced politicos for the post.  Council Member Gary Schiff is mulling a run, regardless of Rybak's decision. Council Member Betsy Hodges has filed papers to run, but like Samatar, she will only stand for election if Rybak doesn’t.

“This city has never had a new American to lead,” Samatar  said this week. “I think I would be a formidable candidate.” But he's wrong on that count.  Scotch immigrant James Gray, a Democrat, was seated in 1899.  Eric Hoyer, a DFLer born in Sweden, took office in 1848. 

Here’s his logic.  He starts with a base of support from what he likes to call “new Americans,” immigrants who reside in the city.  He knows finance as a onetime Wells Fargo banker; the founder of the African Development Center, a nonprofit focused on small-scale business lending; and now finance chair for the school board. He’s helped to develop local and state Muslim-focused lending programs. He knows economic development and has good business contacts; that could provide a good fundraising base.

Plus, he got to know City Hall a bit after Rybak appointed Samatar to the Library Board in 2005, the last such mayoral appointment before Hennepin County absorbed city libraries.

Samatar has been outspoken on the school board for the needs of students learning English. He’s also pushed to break apart data so that the performance of students such as Somalis and Hmong could be distinguished from their larger racial categories.

Samatar is 44, has lived in Minneapolis for almost 20 years. He’s a husband and father of four children and they have lived in the Phillips neighborhood for 13 years. He holds an MBA from St. Thomas, and a certificate in community development from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

He’s typically nattily dressed, and speaks Somali, English and Italian fluently. He’s also conversant in Arabic and learning Spanish.