Election 2018: Historic Liberian-American wins in Minnesota

Liberian-American Wynfred Russell won the City of Brooklyn Park City Council race in the West District on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 to become the second person of color to serve in that city’s council. Photo: Wynfred Russell Campaign
Liberian-born and Minnesota-raised Mike Elliott defeated a 12-year incumbent to become the mayor of the City of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota and also that city’s first non-white mayor. Photo: Mike Elliott Facebook age














The groundbreaking victory during last week’s midterms by Ilhan Omar as the first Africa-born black person to be elected to the United States Congress commanded the most attention for those outside the cities of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park but in the two Brooklyns, a duo of two Liberian-Americans, Mike Elliott and Wynfred Russell, made history of their own. The two shook things up at the ballot box to overcome previous losses and join the two cities’ city councils.

Mike Elliot, in his second try for mayor of Brooklyn Center beat the 12-year incumbent Tim Willson to become that city’s first non-white mayor. In 2014 when he first ran, Elliott lost to Willson by 145 votes.

Elliot got his spark for politics while still in high school student when he walked to the Brooklyn Center City Hall to get a permit for a car wash to raise money for the senior prom.

“That was my first time seeing local government up-close,” he said. He is now the mayor and has a few things he would like to do for his city.

Speaking with Mshale after the election mayor-elect Elliott said he was elated by his election as it signaled the city residents were ready for a change. He won with a convincing 54% of the vote. One of his priorities will be to focus on the vitality of the business community in Brooklyn Center. He is a small business owner himself.

Members of the clergy and community leaders pray for Brooklyn Park City Council Member-elect Wynfred Russell (left) and Brooklyn Center Mayor-elect Mike Elliott at Ebenezer Community Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota on Sunday, November 11, 2018 after the duo’s historic win at the November 6, 2018 midterm elections. Photo: Milton Massaquoi

“As you know Target is closing its Brooklyn Center store which is going to be devastating for our community,” Elliott said. “I want to see how we can avoid such in the future.”

Target announced in October that it will close its Brooklyn Center store in February for what it called “decreasing profitability.” Elliott is concerned about a domino effect of other businesses closing shop in his city.

“We will involve the community in everything we do to increase the vitality and quality of living of our city,” Elliott said.

The mayor-elect also expressed his wish to see ‘sit-down’ restaurants in Brooklyn Center which will make the city a destination point.

In neighboring Brooklyn Park, Wynfred Russell, convincingly won his race for city council in the West District by garnering over 55% of the vote to put behind him the experience of his last run in 2012 when he lost by five votes to the same candidate, he beat last week. The 2012 loss by five votes has since become a motivating factor for other candidates who use it as an example to warn against voter apathy and why every vote counts.

The election of Russell also makes him the second person of color to ever serve on the Brooklyn Park City Council following the election of Susan Pha two years ago.

In a post-election interview with Mshale, Russell attributed his win this time around to a winning coalition that brought together different voices and concerns into his campaign.

“We were able bring together a multigenerational, multiethnic coalition with shared values and concerns,” Russell said. Those issues, Russell said, included affordable housing that includes both renters and home owners.

“We intentionally went out and expanded the electorate by reaching voters we didn’t reach the last time,” Russell said, referring to his arrow 2012 loss.

Russell said once he is sworn-in, he intends to focus on the issues that got him elected.

A fitness and outdoor enthusiast, Russell was animated and appreciative when asked about his reaction to the overwhelming voter approval of a $26 million bond referendum to upgrade the city’s parks and building of new senior facilities and teen centers. The referendum passed with 62% (over 18,000 voters) voting in favor.

“That was a big thing for me as I think it’s going to benefit our people greatly as a lot of the parks, which happen to be in my district, are in bad shape,” said Russell.

Russell said other issues he intends to look into in collaboration with others in the council include youth engagement which ties in with the passing of the referendum. He said the voters overwhelming passage of the bond should make it easier to engage the youth with relevant activities to keep them engaged and active.

“I also intend to focus on the small businesses of which many are run by people of color and do not get the same tax breaks or incentives other big companies get from our city,” he said. “But if we can get some grants to support them, the small business is the backbone of the economy and it will benefit our city if they thrive.”

Russell said the Brooklyn Park Fire Department is understaffed and that it will also be a focus of his “but I will learn more when I get there.”

Swearing In

Mayor-elect Elliott and Council Member-elect Russell will be sworn into office on January 7, 2019 at their respective city council meetings which begin at 7:00PM.

About Tom Gitaa

Tom is the President and Publisher of Mshale and chair of the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium (MMMC). As Mshale founder, he did a lot of the reporting during the humble beginnings of the newspaper. While he still does the occasional reporting, he now concentrates on the publishing side of the news operation.Tom was also the original host of Talking Drum, the signature current affairs show on the African Broadcasting Network (ABN-America), which was available nationwide in the United States via the DishNetwork satellite service. On the show, he interviewed Nobel laureates such as 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai, the first woman from Africa to win the peace prize and heads of states such as the president of  The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh at State House, Banjul. Tom has previously served in the board of directors of Global Minnesota, the sixth largest World Affairs Council in the United States. He has also previously served as President of the Board of Directors of Books for Africa, the largest shipper of donated books to Africa and. He sits on the board of the United Nations Association.

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