The Potluck

Voices of the 5th Congressional District on primary day

By: and - August 12, 2020 8:00 am

Primary Election Day was a festive day for Nasro Hassen, who cheered and chanted in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. Photo by Will Jacott.

At most polling places, the scene Tuesday was marked by a quiet determination to get in and get out in the least time possible.

But at the Coyle Community Center across the street from Cedar-Riverside apartments, it was like an Election Day celebration.

Groups of people were singing, chanting, smiling and laughing while holding campaign signs across from the polling place. Some cars were plastered with campaign signs, and music played.

Nasro Hassen smiled widely with her “I Voted” sticker as she explained why she was “standing for” U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar for re-election. She was one in a group of Somali-American women waving signs and lobbying last-minute deciders.  

Omar is a “Somali girl” who rose from a refugee camp to Congress, Hassen said, and loves everyone, whether white, black, Ethiopian or Oromo.

“That’s why we love her,” she said. She also intends to vote against President Donald Trump in November.

Sadiq Mohamed, 37, lives in the apartments across the street from the polling place, and said he voted for Omar, too, as did everyone in his circle. He voted for her two years ago and will keep voting for her as long as she’s on the ballot, he said.

“She has a lot of support for the community. People — they like her.”

He’d just heard Joe Biden picked Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, and was pleased.

“I like Uncle Joe,” he said. “He’s gonna make America great. (Trump) messed up America.”

Antonio Hanson, a union worker who grew up in south Minneapolis and recently bought a house in the Camden neighborhood of north Minneapolis, also likes Omar, who is “in the public eye” and “always talking, rubbing shoulders with people.”

“She’s always come out and pretty much stood on what she said,” he said.

Walking into her north Minneapolis polling place, Jackie Willie was unsure whether to vote for Omar or “that new guy,” DFL challenger Antone Melton-Meaux. She was leaning toward Omar.

“Maybe giving her a second term will help get her moving into the right direction,” she said, talking herself into a decision. “The other guy I don’t know nothing about.”

But she was hesitant.

“There’s a lot in the media that said she helps her family a lot,” she said, referring to Omar’s husband who is also her political consultant, and whose firm she continues to pay. “That’s not what we want to happen in politics.”

Outside the polling place at St. Louis Park High School, Jim Tapp told the Reformer that Omar was an “America-hater” and accused her of being ungrateful for the success she has found in the United States. Tapp added that he was opposed to any politicians calling to defund the police, and that the Minneapolis City Council members who had proposed doing so had “crap for brains.” As the night wore on, however, Tapp appeared to be something of an outlier.

For several of the 5th Congressional District’s white residents, the police killing of George Floyd and the protests responding to his death underscored the need for racial justice in politics

“It animated the sense that we have to keep doing the work around anti racism…It’s always mattered but it’s the sense of let’s wake up, it’s one of those moments in history,” said Sarah Wilhelm Garbers of St. Louis Park. “Fundamental human dignity shouldn’t be a question.”

Justin Friedrich, a voter in North Minneapolis, said that the protests had pushed police reform to the top of his policy priorities.

“I think it’s opened my eyes to things that I didn’t realize were necessarily problems,” Friedrich said. Moving from a small town in Wisconsin to multicultural, multiracial Minneapolis, he added, had been an educational experience, and one that had continued with the recent spotlight on racism and police violence. “Learning about more cultures and stuff is really cool, but seeing how people repress that is just depressing.”

Friedrich said he was supporting Omar’s reelection bid, and that he saw a need for diverse Congressional representation for Minnesota.

Michael Cavlan, who has run for the Legislature and U.S. Senate on the Green Party ticket, went to the Powderhorn Park polling place to vote for Omar — and only Omar. 

Voters in the progressive 5th Congressional District said social services were an important issue in deciding how to vote. 

“Health care is really big for me, especially because I had 12 months where I was unemployed and obviously you lose your coverage,” said Matthew Fried, a 28-year-old St. Louis Park resident who said he was voting for Omar.

Fried said his personal experience informed his support for “Medicare for All,” the socialized health insurance backed by Omar.   

“I just get real envious of other countries where it’s not such a big deal to go to the doctor,” he said. “Especially with COVID too I’ve tried to be really careful, just thinking in the back of my mind, I don’t know that I can go to the hospital. So Medicare for All is a big one.”

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Aviva Waldman

Reformer intern Avi Waldman is a junior at the University of Chicago working on a degree in English language and literature. She edits and reports for the independent student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon. She previously interned at San Diego CityBeat. In her free time, she enjoys cross-country road trips and is a proud cat parent.

Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.