Saturday June 13, 2020
By Jenny Berg
ST. CLOUD — Six years ago, Ahmed Said became one of the first Somali candidates to run for St. Cloud City Council..
While he was unsuccessful in 2014, the 49-year-old is hoping the community will embrace his candidacy this November.
Said filed for one of the three at-large city council seats in May and is campaigning to increase housing options, help small businesses, better retain graduates and unite the community.
"I think as a country, we are so blessed. I think we can work together and we can solve our problems together," he said. "And I think with everything that's happening now in America, I think we can use that as a platform to work together for unity and for prosperity."
Said grew up in Somalia and immigrated to the United States with his family in 2001. He's lived in St. Cloud for nearly two decades; he and his wife have six children ranging in age from 8 months to 10 years.
In May, Said graduated from St. Cloud Community & Technical College with an associate's degree. This fall, he plans to attend St. Cloud State University to study creative writing and teaching English as a second language.
He is also writing an historical fiction book based on his experiences in Central Minnesota.
Said said he's been working to unite the St. Cloud community for many years, including during his tenure as the executive director of the Somali American Relations Council. After the stabbings at Crossroads Center in 2016, Said organized a march that brought together community members and faith leaders to pray in Somali, Spanish and English.
Said recently worked as a medical interpreter but has been unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Said said he hopes to bring diversity to the council.
"(With) the nonexistence of a person of color on the council, you are missing the opportunity to learn about certain issues," he said. "I'm a naturalized citizen. I am black and I am Somali American. If I get elected, I might have a different picture of what the issues are. Because of my background, I have experiences the current council members don't have."
While other diverse candidates may have differences in opinions and strategies, Said said he thinks more diversity in general will allow more perspectives.
A few issues Said hopes to tackle affect the Somali community and the city at large.
Said said he wants to help small businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic, especially those owned by people who speak limited or no English, navigate the system to obtain resources.
He also wants the community to better retain employees.
"In the Somali American community, I see many people who graduate from the university and don't get a job in St. Cloud," he said. "I notice people are leaving from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities to get a job. As a city, we're losing resources."
Said also hopes to improve the city's housing stock, especially the supply of rentals for large families, many of whom are among the East African community.
"If I'm elected, I won't be only for the people of color. I have to include all the community and involve the community," he said. "I will work with everyone who is ready and willing to work with me."
All three at-large council seats — held by George Hontos, Jeff Goerger and Carol Lewis — are up for election in November.
Council members are elected to a four-year term that begins in January 2021 and end in January 2025. The annual compensation for the council president is $14,000; other council members receive $12,500 per year.
The filing period for council candidates ended June 2. Nine people filed, which triggered an Aug. 11 primary to narrow the field to six candidates who will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The council's four ward members, elected in 2018, include Dave Masters, Ward 1; Steve Laraway, Ward 2; Paul Brandmire, Ward 3; and Mike Conway, Ward 4.