Robert Lilligren's campaign accuses Somali challenger of using homophobic tactics
Lilligren told MPR that his sexuality has become a campaign issue in his newly redrawn, predominately Somali district.
Warsame (left) and Lilligren
At Minneapolis's Sixth Ward DFL precinct caucus in April, Abdi Warsame won the party's endorsement over incumbent City Council member Robert Lilligren.
But Lilligren's campaign contested the result, alleging that Warsame supporters used homophobia and language barriers to win support from the 6th Ward's predominately Somali population.
Lilligren's campaign manager -- Nimco Ahmed, who, like Warsame, is Somali -- alleges that Warsame's supporters conducted much of the proceedings at the precinct caucus in Somali, making it difficult for those who couldn't speak the language to follow along. And some of the things allegedly said used Lilligren's homosexuality to try to raise support for Warsame.
"The same mic that belongs to the DFL, that was paid by this party, our candidate was being called gay: 'For the gay guy, go on this side, for the Somali brother, go on this side,'" Ahmed told MPR. "Those are unacceptable. He has a name!"
Though it goes without saying that Minneapolis is gay-friendly on the whole, that isn't necessarily the case in the Sixth Ward. According to MPR, only 22 percent of Minneapolis voters voted in favor of the marriage amendment last November. But in the Sixth, 47 percent voted in favor, with support for the amendment reaching 65 percent in the most predominately Somali areas.
In an earlier interview with the Star Tribune, Ahmed said that while she was campaigning for Lilligren in a Somali high-rise before the caucus, a woman approched and asked how much the Lilligren campaign was paying supporters.
"I said, 'I'm not paying anything,'" Ahmed said. "She said, 'Well, your opponent is paying.'"
Warsame, striving to become the first Somali elected to the City Council, denies he's paying supporters and says he supports gay rights.
"Especially coming from a community that's poor, that's black, and that's Muslim, we've been discriminated against more than anybody," Warsame told MPR. "So for us to make Robert or anybody else's race, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation an issue, would have been counter-productive for what we want to do, and what I want to do and the message that I had for the community."
A DFL committee rejected the Lilligren campaign's challenge to the results of the precinct caucus and upheld Warsame's endorsement.
-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.