Jamal Osman settles in to Ward 6 Council

The ward has been without City Council representation through multiple city crises.


Image by Caroline Yang

After a tight special election win in August, newest council member Jamal Osman is ready to serve Ward 6.

Osman, who ran against 11 other candidates, was one of the favorites to win the close-call election. Two days past election night, the city released a statement declaring Osman the unofficial winner. Minneapolis City Council confirmed the win on Aug. 20.

“I had a lot of support from the community … My campaign was all about the residents,” Osman said. “The community got my message.”

A tumultuous summer, an empty seat

The Ward 6 council member was originally born in Somalia and came to the U.S. from Kenya when he was 14. He went to high school in St. Paul, and after starting a family, he moved around Minneapolis before settling in Phillips West, where he now lives with his wife, Ilo Amba, and his “five beautiful children.”

“The first time I heard [Osman was running for office] I thought ‘Oh no,’” said Mahamoud Wardere, a former candidate for Minneapolis mayor and the first Somali-American to run for office anywhere in the United States in 2001. “‘You’re a nice guy who helps people, why do you want to be a politician?’”

Wardere is a well-known activist in the East African community. He currently works for CommonBond Communities, one of the largest nonprofits for affordable housing in the Upper Midwest, where he met Osman and worked with him for more than six years.

While new to politics, Osman served in the nonprofit sector for over a decade and then for CommonBond Communities via Seward Tower East . There, he worked as a resident advocate helping residents with education, employment and housing issues.

“I saw this job as what I was doing already, defending residents,” Osman said, “Now, on a bigger scale, I get to do it for 37,000 residents in Ward 6.”

Those 37,000 Ward 6 residents are scattered between six neighborhoods in downtown and south Minneapolis, including Cedar-Riverside.

Housing, while on Osman’s platform, is not a new issue in Ward 6 or Minneapolis. Osman replaced Abdi Warsame, who left the council seat empty in March to become the new head of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.

As a result, the ward has been without council representation through the onset of COVID-19 lockdown orders and through the protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd.

When Warsame departed the seat, a contentious debate about the establishment of an Africa Village mall in Cedar-Riverside was underway. The mall is promised to include affordable housing, small business resources and a farmers market.

Osman admitted he does not know much about the project, but he said he is excited about what it could mean for housing in Ward 6 and education about African culture. “As I continue doing my work, I will do a lot of research and make sure that I’ll make a decision that will benefit the community,” Osman said.

After he was elected, Osman asked Warsame’s former policy aide, Ryan SanCartier, to stay in his office, something SanCartier said he was happy to do.

SanCartier also expressed his excitement on Osman’s election and that Osman plans to both continue some of Warsame’s work and introduce projects of his own.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey congratulated Osman via social media, making sure to mention Osman’s passion for housing reform.

A listening approach

On top of concern for housing, Osman said he is also passionate about addressing the opioid crisis, mental health resources and youth homelessness — conversations that have been ongoing in Cedar-Riverside and beyond.

“It’s a public health emergency, and … these kids are dying. They are dying and they know they’re not getting the help they need. There’s a lot of things that contribute to [that],” Osman said.

“The city should see this as a public health emergency, a crisis. They should address it as such, not just problems Ward 6 has,” Osman said.

However, Osman’s next actions for these issues are not yet fully formed. The newest council member is green in the world of politics and said he wants to spend a lot of time hearing from the community before taking action on things such as police reform and further COVID-19 precautions.

He also wants to “do a lot of research” before taking on other projects.