The campaign text message that pinged on Elizabeth Wrigley-Field's phone began, as so many do, by asking for her vote.
It ended, as no campaign text message ever should, with an unsolicited photo of a strange man's genitals.
"Dear Ward 6 resident, I hope you will come out and vote for Jamal Osman on November 2," the text began. "Jamal will support our police and make sure that we hold criminals responsible for their actions."
The sender claimed to represent Osman, a first-term Minneapolis council member who is facing a challenge from community organizer Abdirizak Bihi. It seemed an odd pitch to make to Wrigley-Field, demographer and sociology professor who had posted openly on social media about her unhappiness with both candidates in the race.
It was a robo-text, she assumed, but fired off a quick response anyway.
"I wasn't planning to vote for you," she texted back, "but you may have just earned a vote for Bihi."
That should have been the end of it.
Instead, as an amused, bemused, Wrigley-Field walked her dog and prepared to celebrate her wedding anniversary on Monday, the text messages kept coming.
The sender insulted Bihi and previous candidates for the seat; shared multiple smiling photos of Osman with his family and DFL figures like Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar. The sender — who started out referring to Osman in the third person and then started responding as if they were Osman — dredged up remarks Wrigley-Field had made about the race on Twitter months ago.
"So I asked, 'Are you actually Jamal Osman?' and he said 'Yes I am,' " she said Tuesday, after sharing screenshots of the lengthy, bizarre exchange. "I didn't believe him. Because that's ridiculous. I don't think that's how candidates are spending their time."
But the sender kept sending, ducking the substantive questions Wrigley-Field tried to ask about vaccine distribution efforts in the ward. It was, she figured, some overeager campaign volunteer who couldn't take no for an answer. Maybe, she suggested, voter outreach isn't the right role for you. Again, the sender insisted that this was a Minneapolis City Council member talking.
As Wrigley-Field sat down to an anniversary dinner with her husband Monday evening, her phone started pinging again. First a flurry of innocent photos of Osman with his family and at DFL events.
Then. An unsolicited photo of somebody's genitals.
"Sorry, wrong picture," the sender posted. "I am a volunteer not Jamal Osman."
Suddenly, the text exchange wasn't funny anymore.
Yes, if you're a woman with an opinion in public, someone will try to weaponize male anatomy against you. You'll get pics, you'll get threats, and sooner or later someone will order you to make them a sandwich.
The Osman campaign denied any connection to the text exchange and campaign supporters pushed back hard when Wrigley-Field posted about the incident on Tuesday. The number that had been texting her has been disconnected.
"We explicitly, absolutely, positively 100% had nothing to do with the text messages," said Sean Broom, a senior adviser to the Osman campaign. "It is unacceptable that she received sexually graphic images. No one associated with our campaign in any capacity whatsoever, as volunteer or staffer, has anything to do with this."
The Osman campaign, he said, does not use a commercial service to blast constituents with robo-texts, and conducts most of its outreach by phone banking. Moreover, he said, there is no phone number or e-mail for Wrigley-Field in the DFL voter database the campaign has been using.
Which just deepens the mystery of the unsavory texts. Was it from an opposing campaign? A political operative trying to make both candidates look bad? Just a troll looking to make everyone miserable the week before an election?
"It was very exasperating to be accused of something this heinous," Broom said. "This campaign has, from the very start, done everything we can to try to run by Jamal's values."
It is been a brutal, bruising campaign season in Minneapolis and it would be reassuring to say we've now hit rock bottom.
But Election Day is still six days away.
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