Warsame: Election ‘will transform the way Somalis see politics’

Ward 6 City Councilmen-elect Abdi Warsame is surrounded by supporters at the Mixed Blood Theatre Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Minneapolis, Minn.  (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, David Joles)

Minneapolis City Councilman-elect Abdi Warsame says his election marks a turning point for the city’s Somali-American community.

“I think it will transform the way Somalis see politics,” Warsame told MPR’s All Things Considered show on Wednesday. “They never actually understood that (local) politics has an effect on their day-to-day lives.”

Warsame defeated incumbent Robert Lilligren in the 6th Ward on Tuesday to become the first person of Somali descent to hold municipal office in the United States.

He said Minneapolis Somalis have historically turned out to vote in large numbers in previous federal and state elections — but never in city contests. Warsame’s campaign focused on educating residents in the newly drawn 6th Ward about the importance of Minneapolis politics, he said.

“We want this community to participate and integrate into the mainstream,” he said. “I think the best way to do that was through participation in the political process.”

Warsame also said he’s received an outpouring of support from the Somali community nationwide after winning the election.

“I’ve been getting more phone calls that I’ve ever had in my entire life. My Facebook page is going crazy,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement.”