Following Abdi Warsame’s resignation from the Minneapolis City Council, eight candidates have stepped forward for the chance to represent Ward 6.
Warsame vacated the seat last month to lead the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. The special election for the ward, which includes the Cedar-Riverside, Seward, Ventura Village and Stevens Square neighborhoods, will take place Aug. 11.
The filing period runs from May 19 to June 2, leaving the door open for more candidates to join the race and compete to serve the rest of Warsame’s term through 2021.
A well-known voice in Cedar-Riverside, local activist Abdirizak Bihi, 55, came to the U.S. 24 years ago, settling in Elliot Park before moving to the neighborhood four years later.
Bihi has worked in social services and as a social justice advocate in the community for more than two decades. His work has ranged from an interpreter and community liaison with Hennepin County to administering job training programs for community members and helping them secure employment.
Bihi said his main concern, if elected, would revolve around inequity in his community.
“Whether it’s housing, jobs or opportunities … whether it’s access to resources for the community to get skills and viable wages, those are the inequities that I am really concerned about,” he said.
Born in Somalia and raised in Virginia, AJ Awed, 29, arrived in North Minneapolis nearly a decade ago. A University of Minnesota alumnus and recent graduate of Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Awed is a fellow with the American Arbitration Association, practicing mediation in Hennepin County housing and harassment courts.
Awed said he came to know Cedar-Riverside during his time as a student at the University, visiting Sagal Restaurant & Coffee on Cedar Avenue with friends for Somali tea. Awed said he wanted to return to Somalia after college, but voices in the community encouraged him to run for the vacated seat.
“I was never interested in politics,” he said. “But there was a point where once I saw the need and all these [community members] saying, ‘We need you.’ I felt like I couldn’t turn my back on them.”
Awed — who identifies as a Democratic Socialist — said his policy goals include supporting a Green New Deal, protecting public housing from privatization, preventing gentrification and fighting opioid addiction.
AK Hassan, 29, is the former vice president and District 3 Commissioner of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, representing Cedar-Riverside and surrounding neighborhoods since his election in 2017.
Hassan said his first focus if elected would be to help small businesses deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. His other priorities include fighting the opioid crisis and improving the availability of affordable housing, which he said is an issue that has been amplified by COVID-19.
“People will lose their jobs and won’t have a place to stay,” Hassan said. “[Affordable housing] is going to be a big priority for me.”
After coming to the U.S. from Somalia in 2008, Hassan is a community organizer and former president of the Ventura Village neighborhood association. This experience helps him understand the dynamic between a council member and the neighborhoods they represent, he said.
“I’m someone who understands working with neighborhoods is going to be key … because that’s where work gets done,” Hassan said.
Jamal Osman was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. from Kenya when he was 14. Osman, 35, has worked in the nonprofit sector for the last decade, including now for nonprofit CommonBond Communities, where he helps residents of the Seward neighborhood secure and maintain employment.
Osman, who grew up in the ward, said his policy goals include tackling the opioid crisis and homelessness, boosting affordable housing, improving economic equity and protecting renters rights.
With a significant number of residents in Ward 6 being renters, he said his nonprofit experience in advocacy for tenants rights and eviction protection will allow him to better tackle those issues as a council member.
“I’m already doing this fight for the residents — I want to do it on a bigger scale,” Osman said. “I want to be able to do it in a way that can affect not just Seward neighborhood residents but be able to do it for all of Ward 6.”
Joshua Scheunemann, 25, worked on political campaigns including with Working America and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioner Chris Meyer’s campaign. Born and raised in St. Paul, he now lives in Stevens Square, running a political consulting company and working in retail for OfficeMax.
As a Green Party candidate, Scheunemann said he plans to focus on climate change and boosting environmental protections in the city, as well as police reform and improving access to housing. He said the two major political parties haven’t had “best results” on the local level, and he hopes to provide a third voice for the ward’s constituents to consider.
“My big drive is making sure that every Minneapolis voice is heard and that we can have that third party voice for the betterment of the people,” Scheunemann said.
Suud Olat, 29, arrived in the U.S. from Kenya in 2012, stopping in Nashville for two years before arriving in Minnesota in 2015. Having earned his degree from St. Cloud State University, Olat works as a medical interpreter. Olat is also Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District leader for the ONE Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy and campaigning organization founded by Bono of U2.
Olat said his top priority would be to bring more jobs and economic opportunity to the ward. He said increasing access to education would help community members gain meaningful employment.
“My community organizing throughout the state has given me the opportunity to listen to first-hand concerns of immigrant families, our neighbors in Ward 6 and overall the city of Minneapolis,” he said. “That has only strengthened my desire to make a real meaningful change.”
Additional goals for Olat, if elected, include advocating for seniors and empowering small businesses.
Mohamoud Hassan, a former challenger to incumbent Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, for Minnesota Senate District 62 in 2016, announced his Ward 6 campaign at a Somali TV event in February. Hassan declined to comment for this story.
Saciido Shaie, a former candidate in the Minnesota House District 60A special election earlier this year, could not be reached for an interview.
As the pandemic continues indefinitely, the city is working with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office to potentially allow all constituents to vote by mail.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated AK Hassan's position with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. He is the former vice president.