Somali Candidate Eyes Milestone in US Race

Kyle Potter, Big Story, August 3, 2014

In a neighborhood dubbed “Little Mogadishu,” Mohamud Noor can’t walk more than a block without being stopped by someone who wants to shake his hand.

Juggling two cell phones and a stack of campaign fliers, he chats them up on his bid for a seat in Minnesota’s House of Representatives. They already know. He’s one of theirs.

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Noor, 36, has been door-knocking, phone-banking and fundraising in a race that could make him the first Somali-born state lawmaker in the U.S. With the backing of many in the city’s growing Somali-American population, Noor is pressing the longtime incumbent Democrat in a hotly contested primary.

Minnesota has become home to an estimated 30,000 Somalis who began fleeing civil war in their homeland a generation ago, drawn here by welcoming churches and social services. Many have settled in Minneapolis in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, where ethnic restaurants, markets and shops huddle in the shadow of massive high-rise apartment buildings.

So established is the community that members are rising in politics, with Somali-Americans capturing a Minneapolis school board seat in 2010 and a Minneapolis City Council seat last year. A win by Noor in November could add another milestone. {snip}

Noor narrowly lost a race for state Senate in 2011. But he has raised about twice as much money for this campaign and hopes that running in the smaller House district, where about a fourth of the residents are foreign-born, could make a difference.

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Noor’s asset is Somalia. He fled the violence in his home country before his teen years. He and his family escaped to Kenya’s refugee camps, “living in tents, eating what we got,” he said. In 1999, the nine Noors moved together to Minnesota.

Today, he works at a local center that helps immigrants learn English and find work. He and his wife have four children.

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Noor brings up issues, criticizing [his opponent PhyllisKahn for not doing more to restrain tuition increases or to get more state money to expand a cultural center. But for many Somali voters, what’s important is, “He’s Somali. He’s a Muslim. He’s a good guy,” said Khadija Hirsi, 76, who lives in the community.

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Sadik Warfa, a community member who himself made two unsuccessful bids for the Legislature, said he believes the race is “very close.” No matter how it turns out, he said, Minnesota’s Somali community has shown its political importance.

“We opened the doors for many people,” Warfa said.

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