Like many University of Minnesota students, Sonia Neculescu moved to the Southeast Como neighborhood in Minneapolis to begin her college career. But after her rent went up, she was forced to look for more affordable housing in Northeast Minneapolis.
Recognizing that others in the community share her experience of rising rents and displacement, Neculescu decided to take action and run for Minnesota’s 60A seat in the state House of Representatives.
“I think we’re in a really urgent political moment right now, and we need a representative in this seat who will push for the bold policies that we need and that working people need,” she said.
Following Tuesday’s primary, the special election for the 60A vacant seat is Feb. 4. The district, spanning much of Northeast Minneapolis and part of Southeast Minneapolis, was previously represented by longtime DFL Rep. Diane Loeffler, who died in November after battling cancer.
In addition to renters’ rights, Neculescu’s platform includes environmental justice, free college, student loan debt cancellation, and marijuana and sex work decriminalization. Local organizations like the Twin Cities chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, OutFront Minnesota and Minnesota Young DFL have endorsed her campaign.
Of the 11 DFL candidates vying for the position, Neculescu is among the youngest at 22 years old. If elected, she would be the youngest woman ever elected to the Minnesota Legislature. Though Neculescu said various barriers often prevent younger individuals from running for office, she sees her age as an asset.
“I share a lot of the same lived experiences that a lot of people in this district [and] young people in this district have that are severely underrepresented at the Capitol,” she said. “I’m used to dealing with people underestimating me but that’s how we’re going to win.”
Faisa Ahmed, president of the University’s College Democrats and a 60A constituent, met Neculescu in 2018 at an organizing meeting for then-state Rep. Ilhan Omar. Despite her age, Neculescu’s history as an organizer, renter and working-class resident of the district is experience enough, she said.
“There is a value in lived experience, as well as when you can say you worked for other organizations, or you've done other stuff and have the ‘policy experience,’” Ahmed said. “But policy experience is learned — you cannot replace lived experiences.”
While at the University, Neculescu co-founded Women for Political Change in 2015, a student group that aims to use political activism to empower women, trans people and non-binary people. The group became a nonprofit in 2018 and now operates statewide with Neculescu as political action director.
Current president of the University’s WFPC chapter Quinn Morris said the group tries to reflect what students find politically important and amplify student voices. Neculescu’s progressive campaign takes the same approach for the 60A community, she said.
“I really think our future is in young people,” Morris said. “So in order for that to happen and to really make a progressive change as most young people want, it's important that we have a seat at the table or at least a voice at the table.”
Along with Neculescu, DFL candidates Piyali Dalal, Mohamed Barre, Sydney Jordan, Saciido Shaie, Zachary Wefel, Susan Whitaker, Aaron Neumann, Jessica Intermill, Aswar Rahman and Amal Ibrahim will compete in the primary on Tuesday.
The nominated DFL candidate will then face Legalize Marijuana Now party candidate Marty Super in the special election. No Republican candidates are running for the seat.