Voters elected Abdullahi Abdulle as the first Black, Muslim, and immigrant city council member in New Brighton November 3. Credit: Abdullahi Abdulle

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Voters in New Brighton elected Abdullahi Abdulle, the first Black and the first Muslim immigrant, to their city council. 

Abdullahi, 36, an associate transportation planner for the city of Minneapolis, was one of six candidates in the nonpartisan contest competing for two open city council seats. He won 4,800 votes, or 25 percent.  He ran for the city council seat to ensure that marginalized communities in New Brighton, particularly immigrant communities, could have improved relationships with public safety officers, more affordable housing, and better access to city services.

“I feel great that our message resonated in the majority of the community,” Abdullahi said. “The five other candidates and incumbents have done great things. But that tells me how unique our message was.”

Abdullahi said that one of his priorities is to improve public safety and its relationship with underrepresented communities. He said he’s been impressed with the New Brighton Department of Public Safety so far, but he said he wants to recognize that the Black and immigrant community in the area still have justified fear of the police.

“I want to make sure we build an authentic and organic relationship with the community and provide information as well as protection to all,” Abdullahi said.

Abdullahi said he also will address housing insecurity in New Brighton. He moved to the area because of its affordable housing and wants to make sure low-income residents can take advantage of that same opportunity. 

As someone who works for the city of Minneapolis, Abdullahi said he noticed that local government is not always accessible, especially for new immigrants. As a city council member, he said he will work to make sure city services like rental assistance are easier to access.

“I’ll try to make government less wonky and easier to navigate so that people can take advantage of the services available to them,” Abdullahi said. “There are so many things done day-by-day by elected officials to improve the living stands of the community, but the community doesn’t know about that.”

With more than 22,000 people, New Brighton’s population is 10 percent Black, 6 percent Latino, and 5 percent Asian. Foreign-born residents make up about 14 percent of the city’s population. Abdullahi, who came to the United States in 2010 from Somalia as the only member of his family, said the demographics of the city demanded someone from his background on the city council

“New Brighton really needed it, because we have a growing, diverse population,” Abdullah said of his election. “That was not reflected in the city council. It looks like our community was ready to see some change.”

Abdullahi applied for a diversity immigrant visa on a whim while he attended university in Somalia. He was one of 10,000 immigrants from Somali accepted in the visa program in 2010. At the time, he was studying civil engineering in Pakistan. Once he moved to Minnesota, he lived with a cousin in Hopkins and immediately knew he wanted to go to college.

He received a B.S. in Construction Management from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2014. During his freshman year, he also joined the Minnesota Army National Guard. He served until 2018.

Abdullahi Abdulle, pictured here at the New Brighton History Center, has worked in city planning ever since he came to the United States as a Somali immigrant in 2010. Credit: Abdullahi Abdulle

Abdullahi said he didn’t have a car in college so he used public transportation. A lot of the issues he thinks about now as a transportation planner, he experienced as a commuter student.

After receiving his bachelor’s, Abdullahi wanted to expand his city planning knowledge. He received a master’s in urban planning and a graduate certificate in local government management in 2016.

That year, Abdullahi started working for the city of Minneapolis as an urban scholar where he specialized in bike and pedestrian traffic. He also presented research on civic literacy in the East African community to the city.

As an associate transportation planner, Abdullahi manages projects like street reconstruction, asphalt pavement, and bike and pedestrian traffic improvement.

Despite working in transportation, Abdullahi said he wanted to make more meaningful changes after the killing of George Floyd. A friend suggested that he run for a city council seat in New Brighton, where he lives with his wife and son.

Abdullahi ran an aggressive campaign for a nonpartisan candidate. With a team of 25 people, Abdullahi’s campaign sent out 8,000 mailers and created a robust online presence to curb limitations posed by the pandemic. He also conducted distanced conversations with residents at parks. People were excited to see someone from their own community representing them, Abdullahi said, and it showed in the results.

“I’m very proud of the campaign we ran,” Abdullahi said. “We had a much wider reach and presence than anyone else that was running.”

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.