Mpls. caucus rescheduled after dispute

The crowd at the Brian Coyle Center DFL caucus in Minneapolis, Feb. 4, 2014.
Matt Sepic / MPR News

A Minneapolis precinct caucus that was shut down Tuesday after an altercation will reconvene in a few weeks, Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota DFL said today.

Martin said the caucus at the Bryan Coyle Center in Minneapolis descended into chaos when a dispute arose between supporters of state Rep. Phyllis Kahn and challenger Mohamud Noor over how the meeting was going to be conducted. The two are competing for the DFL endorsement for the House District 60B seat, which Kahn has held since 1972.

The campaigns had agreed to have a person representing each candidate share the duties of running the meeting, attended by hundreds of caucus participants, Martin said.

But he said one of the campaigns decided to change that plan.

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"What ended up happening is while the caucus conveners were being elected, somehow, and I'm not exactly sure how this happened, one of the campaigns decided to renege on that offer and it set off a lot of tension," Martin said.

There was so much tension that 30 minutes after the meeting started, Minneapolis police officers began clearing the auditorium, as some meeting participants shouted, pushed and shoved each other.

Both candidates say they were not pleased with how the meeting turned out.

Noor, a member of the Minneapolis School Board, said he was at a different caucus meeting when the scuffle broke out. He said he does not know who started the trouble but is sure it wasn't people who support him.

"No one from my group started that incident," Noor said. "None of them were involved in this unfortunate situation."

Kahn attended the caucus, but didn't get a chance to speak before it was shut down. She said she heard the altercation started because a group of Noor supporters decided to break with the agreement to have a supporter of each candidate co-chair the caucus.

The Coyle Center is located in the heart of a largely Somali American community. Martin said many of the hundreds of caucus participants came to support Mohamud Noor, but not all of them.

"There are folks within the Somali community that support Phyllis Kahn who were there and who are very vocal and very active and there are folks who supported Mohamud Noor," Martin said.

Party officials are looking for a new site for the next meeting. Martin said it will be convened in a few weeks by neutral representatives from outside the district. He said professional translators will be present, and the party may also choose to hold it in a larger room, in order to diffuse some of the tension.

"That would probably be a good idea to have someone outside the district," Kahn said. "Probably be a good idea to have professional translators."

In the meantime, Martin hopes tensions between the camps will subside.

"Democracy is never an easy thing, and sometimes it gets ugly," he said. "But it should never rise to the level that it did where people are being physically assaulted. It's never called for. Our party doesn't condone violence and our party doesn't condone threats or intimidation."

MPR News' Matt Sepic contributed to this report.