Residents of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis turned out in large numbers on Wednesday night for a do-over of a precinct caucus that ended in chaos two weeks ago.
Minneapolis school board member Mohamud Noor, who is challenging longtime DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn for her seat in the Minnesota House, got a boost at the caucus. He won two-thirds of the precinct's delegates.
On Feb. 4, a disagreement over who'd be in charge of the caucus at the Brian Coyle Community Center escalated beyond heated verbal exchanges. The altercation between supporters of 42-year incumbent Kahn and challenger Noor ended when police cleared the room, but not before a Minneapolis City Council staffer suffered a concussion.
By contrast, Wednesday's redo -- while spirited -- was orderly. This time, DFL party leaders moved the caucus to a larger venue -- an auditorium at the University of Minnesota's Coffman Memorial Union. Participants queued up in single file lines and DFL party volunteers checked for proof of residency before handing out badges.
Other party volunteers, decked out in reflective neon vests like workers on an airport runway, directed traffic. They kept caucus participants on the opposite side of a rope line from caucus observers -- many of whom came from outside the precinct.
Security was tight, too. DFL Party Chair Ken Martin says 10 private security guards were on hand, in addition to university and city police officers.
"We want to make sure that we send a very clear message to people participating that we're not going to tolerate any of the antics or behavior that occurred two weeks ago," Martin said. "If people get out of line, that they're going to be banned from participating in our party in the future."
Martin and other Democrats from outside the district led the caucus. Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak kicked off the meeting by praising the Somali-American community for the gains it has made. But Rybak also expressed outrage over the chaos at the previous caucus.
"It was below the dignity of this great community. We have come too far and we have come too far together to destroy the reputation it took thousands of people many years to build. We cannot destroy what you have built," Rybak said to applause.
The caucus proceeded without incident, and when it was time to elect the 43 delegates to the district convention, Noor was a clear favorite. He won 28 of the delegates over incumbent Kahn's 15. Noor said he was happy with the result.
"I counted on getting at least two-thirds, and we got two-thirds of the delegates -- two to one," Noor said. "That's a huge success."
Noor acknowledged that the delegates he won last night are just a small fraction of the hundreds who'll attend the district convention on April 5. But he remained confident he'd win his party's nomination for the Minnesota House.
Mohamed Ahmed, a Noor supporter and Somali community activist, said he was embarrassed by the problems at the caucus two weeks ago. But Ahmed said last night's gathering was an example of how politics should work.
"I am so proud of Minnesotans coming out. These are Minnesotans even though they may be Somalis, but they're Minnesotans, coming out to participate in a democracy. This is what democracy looks like. It was never [as] beautiful as it is today," Ahmed said.
Even though she walked away with just a third of the delegates last night, incumbent Kahn also said she was pleased with the result. She also said she was glad the caucus went off without a hitch.
"The DFL party did a great job of stepping in, making sure that it was conducted in an orderly way, giving total respect to both campaigns and both candidates," Kahn said.
When asked if she was in danger of losing the DFL endorsement, Kahn, who was first elected to the legislature in 1972, said she didn't want to be overconfident. Kahn did say she'll abide by the party endorsement, meaning she won't run for re-election if convention delegates give the official nod to her challenger.