St. Paul DFL Party leaders are hoping that Saturday's First Ward convention at Central High School will be about endorsing a City Council candidate, rather than ironing out delegate challenges that emerged from the chaotic ward caucus nearly five weeks ago.
More than 700 people reportedly attended the Feb. 3 caucus at Capitol Hill Magnet School in the Summit-University district, including "historic numbers of East African[s]" and "many first-time caucus goers," according to the city DFL website. That's several times the number that showed up for the caucus four years ago.
Many of them came to support Samakab Hussein and Mohamed Said, new candidates who are challenging first-term City Council Member Dai Thao for the party's backing.
But in challenges filed with the party, Thao's campaign charged that some Hussein supporters were bused in from Minneapolis and claimed to have St. Paul addresses that don't exist. "Our campaign was calling the delegate list and found that some people don't live where they say they did," said Amee Xiong, Thao's wife and campaign staffer.
Abdinasser Yusuf, acting campaign manager for Hussein, called those claims "absolutely baseless." Convention delegates on Saturday, he said, "will have IDs with their addresses. … There is no one in Minneapolis campaigning for [Hussein]."
Matt Freeman, vice chair of the St. Paul DFL, said that he's unaware of any evidence that Minneapolis residents participated in the St. Paul caucus (although some were allowed to stay in the gym as observers).
"If that comes forward, we'll work to address that," he said.
The party sent over additional staffers to help, Freeman said. But many caucus goers weren't sure which precinct they lived in, and there were language issues.
The situation is reminiscent of what happened two years ago in Minneapolis, when hundreds of East African immigrants flooded a DFL Party caucus to support Abdi Warsame for the City Council's Sixth Ward seat.
Opponents back then charged intimidation and harassment but the Warsame camp denied it, saying that party officials had been unprepared for the huge turnout.
Xiong also blamed St. Paul party officials for not taking seriously predictions that 1,000 people might show up for the First Ward caucus.
"I think the DFL is at fault here because they were not organized on that night and didn't have enough volunteers to staff the sign-ins or run the precinct meetings," she said.
All three campaigns made delegate challenges with ward and city party officials this week. Some delegates were knocked back to alternates because they had caucused in the wrong precinct. A roster of delegates appeared to be written in the same hand, calling into question whether all the people listed as delegates had actually attended the caucus.
"This is how ballot-box stuffing is done," one official said.
Freeman agreed that party organizers were not ready. "When you have that kind of turnout, it does lead to some crowded rooms and some general disorder," he said. "I think in the future we'll work to have even more folks on hand."
But some worry that the damage has been done.
If the convention makes an endorsement Saturday, Xiong said, "I'm not sure if that will really be reflective of the community in Ward One."