Yang and Warsame join City Council

Following the 2013 city election, the Minnesota Daily is running a series profiling new City Council members. Beginning in January, Blong Yang and Abdi Warsame will represent City Council wards 5 and 6, respectively.

Left Blong Yang, and right Abdi Warsame

Courtesy of the councilmember websites

Left Blong Yang, and right Abdi Warsame

by Jessica Lee


Attorney Blong Yang will represent Ward 5, an area made up of seven north Minneapolis neighborhoods. Outgoing City Councilman Don Samuels has served the ward since 2003 but chose to run for mayor instead of seeking re-election.

Yang raised more than $30,000 during his campaign and secured nearly 53 percent of votes, defeating three other candidates listed on the ballot through ranked-choice elimination.

Born in a Thai refugee camp, Yang immigrated to the United States with his family in 1980. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California-Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Yang has served as an investigator with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights and owned his own Minneapolis law practice for eight years.

What qualified you for this position?

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for the past 12 years. I’m a homeowner. I’ve been an attorney, but I’ve also been active in a lot of different things that have happened out here in north Minneapolis, and I just felt like we weren’t getting the changes that we wanted fast enough.

What are the biggest issues facing the ward, and how do you plan on addressing them?

I think first and foremost, up here, is the issue of safety. Folks up here — whether they’re black, white, anyone — I mean, they want this place to be safe, and they want their kids to be outside and playing without having to worry about stray bullets or being assaulted by anybody. Those sorts of things are really critical to the success of this ward. To make it safer, too, is to limit that perception that it’s unsafe up here, which a lot of people have.

I think the first step is definitely to get our police department staffed properly up to the standards of what a city this size should be — our fire department, the same way.

The second issue that’s really important for the people up here is jobs. We need to create jobs up here. I think the way to create jobs up here is encouraging small businesses to locate here, [helping] the small businesses that are already here to make them successful, [and making] the processes easier so that businesses can locate here. …

I hope that also we help small businesses to create jobs up here.

What were you hearing from constituents on the campaign trail?

Without fail, the No. 1 issue was safety. It was that “I want to feel safe while living up here.”

There were other issues. One was the issue of education. … I think the mayoral race kind of indicated that narrative of education. …

What are the biggest changes, in terms of policies, the next City Council will make?

… My sense is that the first decision will always be the most important one, and that is [deciding] who the City Council president will be. Something like that might lead to what happens next in terms of what policy agenda that is set and how the issues are going to be dealt with.

I’m on the horizon that definitely it’s going to be the Downtown East [redevelopment] project, that park, and the development around the Vikings stadium [and] the issue of the southwest light rail corridor.



Abdi Warsame, executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, will represent Ward 6, an area of four central Minneapolis neighborhoods. Outgoing City Councilman Robert Lilligren has served the ward since 2006 and came in second in the Nov. 5 election.

Warsame raised about $8,000 more than Lilligren during his campaign and received nearly twice as many first-choice votes.

Born in Somalia and raised in the United Kingdom, Warsame moved to Minneapolis in 2006. He received a Bachelor of Science in business from Middlesex University and a master’s in international business from the University of Greenwich.

He also serves as the board chair of the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood
Revitalization Program.

What do you think, in [constituents’] eyes, qualified you for the position?

I think it was the message that we had. We had an inclusive message. We had a message that resonated with the people of Ward 6. … We [ran] a campaign better than our opponent. We understood [constituents] better than our opponent. I think that is why we won, through hard work. …

I think that’s what differentiated us from our opponent, and we understood the people that live in Ward 6 — both the Africans and the traditional Americans — and I think that’s something that helped us, too.

What kind of messages were you getting from people as you talked to them on the campaign trail?

The feel was a lot of people didn’t even know what the City Council was. We had to educate them, especially the immigrant community. We had to educate them [about] what the City Council was [and] what the powers of City Council [are]. …

People did not know that, actually, the politics that affect their lives are the local politics — that the county and the city and the state has more power on them and more effect on their own daily lives than the federal government. … So I think that’s one thing we need to work on. …

But I think people wanted jobs, better education for their children — better schools. … I think we need to work with the [Minneapolis] School Board to emphasize education, prioritize education and to make sure that we figure ways to improve the schools that we have. … So, I think that’s what we’ve got — education, jobs, safety.

Do you have any specific proposals or initiatives that you want to talk about?

One thing that we have is the vocational training programs and the mentorship programs. … For example, Cedar-Riverside has [nearly] 2,000 youths under the age of 18, and there’s not a mentorship program that works in this neighborhood. I work here; I know.

So we need to design … a specific mentorship program that targets this African community but can be applied to the Hispanic, to the Hmong, to [the] African-American [community], to youths of color, in order to keep them out of risk. …

Another thing is to [create jobs]. For example, this African community doesn’t have a lot of plumbers, a lot [of] electricians. … These are the jobs that build a middle class in America, and we need to get these people trained in these jobs. …

I’ve heard [this plan is] ambitious, but I don’t think so. I think it can be done.


Alex Bitter contributed to this report.