Following Rep. Ilhan Omar’s, DFL-Minneapolis, decision to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, a candidate forum was hosted Monday to provide the public an opportunity to engage with candidates ahead of the primary next month.
After Omar, who Senate District 60's DFL party had previously endorsed for the 60B seat, left the race, a number of candidates filed to run in the last minute. The forum, held at the University of Minnesota's Cowles Auditorium, was followed by a straw poll meant to take the place of a formal endorsement. In a straw-poll of about 100 people who attended the forum, Peter Wagenius won with about 36 votes.
Among the seven candidates running include three University of Minnesota students: Joshua Preston, Angelo Jaramillo and Haaris Pasha. Mohamud Noor, a prominent figure in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood who ran against Omar for the same seat in 2016, also filed.
University alumna Sonia Neculescu, chair of Senate District 60’s DFL branch, said while organizing a candidate forum under such short notice was challenging, she was happy that all seven candidates were present to engage with the public.
Neculescu, who was elected in March, said she is excited to be a voice for young people in the district and hoped to engage them through the forum.
“44 percent of the residents in district 60 are under the age of 24 so I am really proud to bring that perspective to the district, which I don’t think has been represented before,” she said.
Omar spoke at the beginning of the forum, emphasizing the diversity of the district which includes the University of Minnesota, Augsburg University, Prospect Park, Seward, Como and Cedar-Riverside.
Noor said he aims to expand his supporter base beyond the East African community to the entire district, including students and long-time residents.
“We have a natural base which is the East Africans in the district, but the best way to engage is to win everybody,” he said. “Last time I was the second candidate because [Omar] won the minds and the hearts of students, so whoever can mobilize the three communities is the only person who can win.”
Jaramillo, a second-year graduate student studying public policy at the University, said he is focused on issues affecting young people, including affordable college tuition and healthcare.
“I’m 23 years old, I am a student, so I understand students and what our generation is going through,” he said.
Pasha, a University law student, said he was drawn to run with the hope of diversifying the voices represented in the party.
“I think that now is the time that as a person of color and as a Muslim, I am seeing the same kind of timidity from democrats and I think that we need someone who is going to be honest and fight for what is right.”
Preston, who currently serves as the student representative to the University’s Board of Regents, said increasing access to education at all levels, criminal justice reform and affordable healthcare, including mental health care, is the focus of his campaign.
But regardless of the results of the primary, he said he is happy with the diverse topics a crowded race brings to the attention of the public.
“What I think is going to be highlighted for voters is that now they are going to know, whether they live in Marcy-Holmes or Prospect Park or the University area or [the] Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is that this whole district is connected and that you can’t just simply have a candidate who represents just one narrow district of 60B,” he said.