Interim St. Paul City Council Member Kassim Busuri's refusal to step down while running for the seat in November has prompted his colleagues to explore changing the city charter so they can force future appointed members off the council.
Under the city charter, council members appoint interim representatives when vacancies arise. As one of seven finalists who sought to fill the Sixth Ward seat vacated by longtime Council Member Dan Bostrom, Busuri pledged he would not run in the general election.
Though that pledge is a standard part of the interim council member appointment process, there's no way for the council to rescind the appointment if that promise is broken.
"We are looking at fixing that loophole," City Council President Amy Brendmoen said.
Busuri launched his campaign Thursday. He said in his campaign announcement that he did not intend to join the Sixth Ward race when he took the interim seat, but "many people" have encouraged him to run.
Multiple council members have called for Busuri to either suspend his campaign or resign his council seat. Busuri repeated in an interview Monday that he will do neither and said he's planning an official campaign kickoff in mid-June.
"I haven't changed my mind," he said. "There's a lot of work that has to be done for Ward Six, and if I resign that work is not going to get done."
Busuri, 32, is the first Somali-American to serve on the council and one of three people of color. Former St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, who served as an interim council member in 2015, said that representation is important as St. Paul diversifies.
"To have an individual of his particular background is important," Finney said. "Give the voters a chance to decide."
Gary Unger, a longtime East Side resident who sought the interim seat, said he supports Busuri's decision to run for a full term.
"I think that says something for the character of the person who's willing to do that," he said. "I think Busuri is the kind of person who will stand up for us."
Other interim council member candidates did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment Monday.
Council members considered a diverse group of candidates in January and would likely return to that list if Busuri were to resign, Brendmoen said.
Busuri's decision to run for the seat is "unfair to so many people," especially the other interim candidates, Council Member Mitra Jalali Nelson said in an interview Friday.
"We had so many exciting, new potential voices," she said, including multiple women of color.
Other candidates respond
The Sixth Ward seat is open for the first time in more than 20 years, after Bostrom unexpectedly announced his retirement in December. Four candidates are already in the race, including three who sought the DFL endorsement at the ward convention last month. All three echoed the call for Busuri's resignation on Monday.
"In politics, integrity is very important, and when Kassim Busuri decided to run, it really feels like he made this race about him, rather than the people of Ward Six, knowing that he took a public oath to not run in the first place," said Nelsie Yang, a Sixth Ward candidate and community organizer.
Busuri responded that his promise was not an official oath.
Terri Thao, a candidate and former St. Paul Planning commissioner, pointed out that other candidates have been campaigning for months and that time is of the essence when it comes to reaching potential voters.
"He's only been in the position a couple months," she said of Busuri. "Before that, he had very little experience."
Candidate Alexander Bourne, a former entrepreneur, said the onus for holding Busuri responsible falls on the council.
"The City Council needs to understand the importance of holding him accountable and ensuring that any interim council member appointed moving forward doesn't have the opportunity to mislead the community," he said.
The council meets Wednesday, but it's unclear whether members will discuss Busuri's status. The council does not meet the following week.
"I'm hoping that that little break gives him some time to think about his options," Brendmoen said.
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509