Minneapolis City Council candidate Mohamed Farah is accusing Council Member Alondra Cano of "Jim Crow tactics" after she questioned the credentials of many of the Somali-American delegates chosen in the Ninth Ward caucus earlier this month.
Cano's campaign filed challenges with the Minneapolis DFL saying 101 delegates elected in the near south Minneapolis caucus did not sign in to participate in the April 4 event at South High School. At least 27 delegates and alternates did not write down their addresses when they registered, Cano's campaign said, and "we have identified at least three delegates who do not live in the precinct they were elected in."
Farah issued a fiery statement Friday morning, accusing Cano of "voter suppression, plain and simple" and calling on her to withdraw the challenges.
"Alondra Cano is acting like Donald Trump," Farah said. "Trump wants a Muslim travel ban and Cano wants to ban East Africans from the DFL endorsement process based on their surnames alone."
Cano denied the accusation and said she was focused on ensuring "a fair process for everyone."
The roughly 260 delegates chosen at the caucus are important because they will try to endorse a DFL candidate in the Ninth Ward convention on April 29. Farah made a strong showing at the caucus, turning out hundreds of Somali-Americans for the event.
The caucus was confusing for some participants, which both sides acknowledge. Cano's campaign complained of several procedural deficiencies, and claimed that not all participants lived in the precinct where they caucused. That should reduce the number of delegates awarded in those precincts.
"We had more than 800 people show up, and we want to make sure that people come back and show up again," said Cano, who added that the turnout was inspiring. "There's just like all kinds of stories about how people perceived that night, so we felt like we needed to do our due diligence and bring forward some of the more significant questions about the process."
She said DFL authorities in the ward and the campaigns have been collegial, giving Farah's campaign extra time to file challenges if he wanted to. She pointed out that her campaign turned out many supporters of color and first-time caucusgoers as well, but they put in the work to help them navigate the process. They got help registering, and Cano's campaign had precinct captains at every caucus.
"When those steps aren't followed, it's a disservice to everyone who is following the process," Cano said. "I don't know what Farah's team put together that night, but turnout alone is not enough."
The complaints will be looked at by a nine-member group in the Ninth Ward called the Credentials Committee, which will meet next week and make a recommendation to delegates, who will decide what to do at the convention.
Cano, a first-term incumbent in the ward that mostly straddles East Lake Street between Interstate 35W and Hiawatha Avenue, is running against Farah and former Council Member Gary Schiff. Farah is the executive director of the Somali nonprofit Ka Joog, and Schiff was a council member from 2001 to 2013, before an unsuccessful run for mayor. He has been a consultant and nonprofit executive since 2013.
In a statement, Schiff joined Farah in his criticism of Cano, saying he's never seen "an effort to disenfranchise so many people of one race from the DFL," and accusing Cano of trying to block participation by those who oppose her.
"Anyone at the caucus could plainly see that nearly half the participants were from the Somali community," Schiff said. "Yet in precinct after precinct, Cano supporters moved to disenfranchise Somali caucusgoers."
State Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Cano backer who has long been at odds with Farah and his City Council ally, Abdi Warsame, said it's "ironic" that Farah would accuse Cano of racial division. Farah, she said, has been pitching himself to Somali-American voters on straight racial identity terms, and Cano has been building diverse support.
"We are speaking about a woman who has been fighting and dismantling patriarchy and oppression in our city. One of the reasons Alondra gets backlash is because she is going all in," Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, said. "The person that is advocating for diversity should not be called out by the person who isn't."
Omar also said she witnessed irregularities on caucus night in the Ninth Ward. Farah, she said, locked the door to one of the classrooms where a precinct caucus was held so other candidates could not speak.
Farah said the caucus turnout was an "unprecedented awakening" in the Ninth Ward, and he argued Cano is simply singling out Somali-Americans because they oppose her re-election bid.
"I came into this party because I thought this party was open to everyone," Farah said. "We should be talking about issues right now, we should not be trying to suppress voters."
The Ninth Ward convention — and four others — will be April 29. But the first round of conventions in other Minneapolis wards kicks off Saturday at 9 a.m. — with delegates in the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh and Tenth awrds convening to try to endorse DFL candidates.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz