Warsame and Lilligren face off in Mpls 6th Ward race

Abdi Warsame
Somali American Abdi Warsame is campaigning to represent Ward 6 on the Minneapolis City Council. (MPR File Photo/Jennifer Simonson)

Minneapolis voters could dramatically reshape the Minneapolis City Council in Tuesday's election.

In three of the council races, incumbents lost the DFL endorsement to challengers. In the Sixth Ward of Minneapolis, DFL-endorsed candidate Abdi Warsame is running against Council Member Robert Lilligren. If elected, Abdi Warsame would be the first American of Somali descent to serve at that level of government in the United States.

But that’s not the reason Warsame is running. In an interview in the heavily Somali-American Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, Warsame said he became interested in a run at the council seat as he helped to draw the district’s new boundaries and learned more about problems in the neighborhood.

There are “a lack of prospects for a lot of the young people in the ward, and a lack of opportunities for the elders who are cramped up in Minneapolis public housing,” Warsame said. “Also, the lack of representation for the ethnic minorities of the city, in particular the East African community, which is a large segment of the city of Minneapolis currently.”

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One challenge Warsame’s campaign faced was convincing people that municipal elections are important.

“We had to educate them about the process, of what the caucus was and the importance of actually participating in the DFL caucus,” Warsame said. “It is starting to dawn on a lot of people that this is the American way of doing things.”

If Warsame is elected, he said he’ll  work hard to represent the broader community in the ward.

“It’s not just a Somali-American guy running, I’m a resident of Ward 6, I live in Seward, I work in Cedar-Riverside, I love the city,” Warsame said. “I will represent everyone equally regardless of their race, gender, political beliefs, or sexual orientation.

Minneapolis Ward 6 City Council Member Robert Lilligren. (MPR File Photo/Curtis Gilbert)

Although Warsame won the DFL endorsement in April, incumbent Robert Lilligren is still running for the post. He said he has a track record of creating jobs in the neighborhood.

“I’m running on a platform about strong neighborhoods, safe communities, creating jobs, especially green jobs, working with small businesses, and representing a very diverse core city ward with a really entrepreneurial constituency,” Lilligren said.

Lilligren is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. During his time in office, Lilligren said he’s routinely reached across cultural barriers.

“In the ward I represent there is no majority-any group, which I think is a good thing, and it really makes us work together to get anything done,” Lilligren said. “Since getting into office, I’ve worked with a number of different communities, specifically the East African communities.”

Lilligren’s said more than half of the precincts in his district are new to him following the most recent redistricting.

“I’ve been making a point of getting to know people. organizations, business owners in the new parts of the ward, being engaged in neighborhood organization,” Lilligren said.

Some Lilligren supporters have said that the DFL endorsement process was flawed, and accused Warsame supporters of using anti-gay slurs against Lilligren. Warsame denies that.

Warsame counters that Lilligren enlisted others to run in the ward to stock the ballot with Somali names. Lilligren said there’s no truth to that.

DFLers Mahamed Cali, Abdi Addow, Sheikh Abdul and Abukar Abdi are also running in Minneapolis Ward 6. They could not be reached for comment.