Somali candidates challenge Rep. Kahn for DFL nod

Ilhan Omar, left, and Mohamud Noor have both announced plans to challenge state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, for the DFL endorsement. Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2014

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is no stranger to challenges from her own party. Over the past few election cycles, Kahn has faced either a primary and endorsement challenge in the heavily Democratic district.

This year is no different. About a month ago, Mohamud Noor announced that he was going to challenge Kahn again for the DFL endorsement. Today, Ilhan Omar announced that she’ll also challenge Kahn for the endorsement.

“It’s not a surprise,” Kahn said when asked about her opponents. “The district has a lot of people interested in political activism who think they could do a pretty good job as a state legislator.”

Kahn said she’s seeking another term because she thinks Democrats can regain the majority in the Minnesota House and she wants to be there for Gov. Mark Dayton’s final two years in office.

Her challengers, however, say it’s time for the longest serving member of the Legislature to be replaced. Both candidates say Kahn is ignoring the needs of the district, particularly people of Somali descent who are a growing segment of the district’s population.

“We need someone who has fluency in all of the communities of our diverse district,” Omar said. “This is not about the last 44 years. This is about the future of the district and what the next few years will look like.”

Omar is currently serving as the Director of Policy and Initiatives for the Women Organizing Women Network. She also served as a policy aide to Minneapolis City Council member Andrew Johnson.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn addressed supporters after her 2014 primary win over challenger Mohamud Noor. Jennifer Simonson| MPR News 2014

In the 2014 endorsement contest, Omar backed Noor’s candidacy. She was even injured during the endorsing convention, receiving a concussion when a fight broke out between supporters of Kahn and Noor. The convention was suspended as a result of the incident.

DFL delegates deadlocked on a subsequent convention. Both Kahn and Noor headed to the primary where Kahn won by nine percentage points.

Omar said she intends to abide by the DFL Party endorsement and will drop out of the race if delegates back another candidate.

Noor isn’t making the same pledge. He told MPR News that he’s running again because he wants the Legislature to focus on improving racial disparities in health care and education.

“The disparities that I see are not being addressed,” Noor said. “Nobody wants to talk about it and that really depresses me.”

Noor, who is the executive director of The Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, said he took the job to “look really deep” into the issues facing the district.

Kahn takes issue with the criticism that she’s not addressing the needs of the Somali community. In the last session, she said she got money for Brian Coyle Center and funding to discourage the radicalization of young Muslims in the community.  She said she didn’t see Omar or Noor at the Legislature advocating for those programs.

“I didn’t see any of them last time so it will be interesting to think that they can just walk in and do it,” she said.

Kahn said she intends to abide by the party endorsement and will drop out of the race if she doesn’t win party backing. She also emphasized that she has significant support in the Somali community, including the backing of Minneapolis City Council member Abdi Warsame. She said a challenge by both Noor and Omar should help her in the endorsement contest.

“The political philosophy is two challengers are always better than one,” she said.