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First Somali-American wins seat on Minneapolis City Council

Issa M. Mansaray | 11/14/2013, 4:22 p.m.

Warsame faces a long list of issues to address in his community, from unemployment, road constructions and mounting housing demands to youth in search of mentors. The Somali community has grown rapidly for the past 20 years. Now, many long for political representation.

The Somalis and East Africans on Cedar Riverside celebrated Warsame’s victory at the Mixed Blood Theatre on the evening of Nov. 5, a few hours after he was declared winner.

“Actually, we couldn’t believe it when he won,” said Osman Abdi, a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota. “He was against a veteran candidate that has been in the City Council for a decade and half. Finally, it came to reality.”

Abdi, a strong supporter of Warsame, added that they spent the weeks prior to the election knocking on doors for last-minute votes. For now, many Somalis and East Africans are happy that they have sent a message across the state. Eagerly, they look forward to Warsame’s days in office as a council member who can relate to them, understand their problems and help find solutions.

“We’re very excited. Some people want someone who can represent them and solve their problems,” said Abdi. “He opened doors for other youths like me. He proved that if you have the education, the confidence, you can have an office.”

For businessman Abdirahman Ali, Warsame’s victory is “a big deal” for Somali businesses.

“We expect a lot of changes in Ward 6 on the way we do business,” said Ali, owner of the Dar-el-Salam store at the African International Mall, commonly known as Kaa Mbo Market, on Cedar Riverside. “We will try to connect to the city of Minneapolis more than before. Our candidate is just elected. We’ll see how he is working and what he is doing.”

Ali believes many Somalis expected less from elected officials before, but now they understand that local elections are really powerful.

“Abdi Warsame is the one that opened that door. I hope everyone would vote next time,” said Ali. “Expectation is good. A lot of youths who came to this country want to step up like Warsame. I am sure they can make it.”

“We have a big community here. Abdi Warsame is not only elected for the Somali people. He is [elected] for Ward 6, and everyone is happy for him,” Ali added.

Business owners said Warsame, whose office is located at the mall, has helped their community for a long time. Somali leaders also indicated that if there are shootings in the area, such as the recent killings along Chicago Avenue, which is close to the Somali businesses, Warsame would be expected to help solve such problems by connecting the city of Minneapolis and the community.

“It would be easy for both sides,” Ali opined. “He is making history, as you can see.”

After winning the Minneapolis City Council seat, Warsame, who currently serves as executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association and board chair of the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program, was in his office on Friday afternoon as groups of Somali youths, women, elders and well-wishers flocked in and out to congratulate him.

Hugging people and shaking hands, Warsame said it “feels good” to win an election that he and his volunteers worked on for more than two years. In his first postelection interview in his office, he said the position comes with huge responsibilities and expectations. He plans to prioritize his goals and manage people’s expectations because he did not make outlandish promises during his campaign.

“Every day it gets heavier, and the expectations are high,” said Warsame. “But I think with great responsibilities, there are opportunities as well.”

He is confident that he will play a key role in the city with members from different backgrounds. With a new mayor and young council members, he believes “it will be an exciting time” in the city of Minneapolis.

“I am happy that he won,” said Sufi Ali, a first-time campaign volunteer, adding that many Africans at home and abroad are following the Somali politics in Minneapolis.