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Minneapolis voters in the City Council's Sixth Ward, home to the Twin Cities' largest East African community, will choose between two Somali-born Democrats: a first-term incumbent and a longtime community activist, with contrasting views on policing and the division of power in City Hall.

Council Member Jamal Osman got a crash course in local government when he joined the council last year during one of its most trying times in the city's history. He found himself under intense public scrutiny over his stance on public safety following the police killing of George Floyd.

During his short stint in City Hall, Osman, 37, has consistently voted for more police funding. But in a recent council debate over how to phrase a ballot question on policing, Osman voted in different ways, sometimes siding with the mayor and sometimes siding with colleagues who support the proposal.

Osman, a certified mental health first aid instructor, supports the Question 2 ballot amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a public safety office. He said it's vital to constituents that the existing system of policing is replaced with a new one that prioritizes violence prevention and other alternative approaches, such as a mental health response.

"It's been a very challenging twelve months," he said, "but I did what was best for my residents and not really joined one group here or there."

His sole opponent, Abdirizak Bihi, a longtime community organizer, says he wants the dwindling Minneapolis police force to be at the same level as that of other major U.S. cities. But Bihi has declined to share his stance on the public safety charter amendment.

"I will let the people vote," said Bihi, 57. "But if they decide no or yes, both ways, I would like to see resources for social workers and mental health professionals."

Bihi was one of 11 candidates who challenged Osman last year in a competitive special election to fill a seat vacated by Abdi Warsame, who resigned to lead the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.

This year, both candidates vied for the DFL endorsement but neither passed the 60% threshold to win the party's seal of approval. Osman got 55% of delegate support, while Bihi received 42%.

Voting already is heavy in the Sixth Ward, which has delivered a third of the city's early votes so far, according to the city's elections administrator. About 11% of the ward's 14,763 registered voters already have cast their ballots. In the last municipal election in 2017, about 55% of Sixth Ward voters voted early.

While the candidates support rent control, measures to fight opioid addiction among youth, pathways to homeownership and economic growth for people of color and immigrants, they are split on their views of Question 1, a charter amendment that aims to change the balance of power at City Hall.

Bihi supports the ballot question, arguing that the aftermath of Floyd's killing shed light on the lack of leadership in City Hall, and "a stronger mayor means we will have someone that we can hold accountable instead of 14 people," he said.

Osman opposes the charter change, saying giving the mayor more governing power over the council will be a "disaster" to addressing all of the needs of the Sixth Ward, which includes the neighborhoods of Cedar-Riverside, Elliot Park, Phillips West, Seward, Stevens Square and Ventura Village.

Since Floyd's killing, some of those neighborhoods have seen an increase in homelessness and were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming an early epicenter of cases and deaths in the state.

"This office means everything to immigrants," said Osman, who coauthored a contentious ballot question asking Minneapolis voters to give the City Council the power to adopt a rent control ordinance. "If the mayor takes all the power, then the mayor is not someone who will be accessible the way we are to immigrant communities."

Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203