Two Liberians Win Municipal Positions in Minnesota

Two Liberian immigrants in the United States, Michael Elliot, and Wynfred Russell have been elected mayor and city council member for Minnesota, respectively in the state general election on Tuesday.

According to summary results posted by Minnesota’s Secretary of State office, Elliot, who contested as an independent candidate, defeated Brooklyn Center’s incumbent mayor, Tim Willson, with 54.68 percent of the total votes cast.  In 2014, Wilson had defeated the current mayor-elect after winning 50.70 percent of the votes, compared to Elliot’s 48.58 percent. He has served as mayor since January 2007.

Russell also defeated nearby Brooklyn Park’s West District sitting council member, Bob Mata, after claiming 55.12 percent of the total votes.

He had previously fallen short of the required votes in 2011 when he lost to Mata for the mayoral position after the death of Mayor Steve Lampi. He again lost to Mata in 2012 during a special election to fill a West District seat that previously held by Jeanette Meyer, a long-time council member who died of lung cancer.

Despite contesting as an independent candidate, Russell received official endorsements from the Democratic Party, Minnesota Regional Labor Federation, the Local Fire Union, and the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota.

He told The Bush Chicken in an email interview prior to his election that his intention was to work to sustain the gains made in crime reduction and ensure that the district’s fire department is properly staffed. He also proposed to advance an affordable housing policy, support functional wages, and encourage small business growth development.

“My vision is a thriving city, vibrant neighborhoods, world-class parks and trails, an unrivaled quality of life, and a transit system that connects us all,” he wrote.

Russell said his leadership would focus on long-term youth engagement efforts, keeping at-risk youth busy with productive programs and activities, and giving them an alternative to truancy and petty crimes.

He possesses a wealth of experience in public service and working to improve the lives of marginalized people in Minnesota.

In October, he received the 2018 Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Award. The award was presented by the McKnight Foundation and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits for his dedication to advocating for disenfranchised communities and advancing equity.

Minnesota is the home to the largest community of Liberians in the U.S. However, the last time a Liberian-American was elected to a significant political post in the state was in 2008, when Paye Flomo became mayor of the small town of Hampton, Minnesota, in rural Dakota County.

The two men’s elections mark another major win by Liberians in a municipal election in the U.S. On Jan. 2 of this year, Wilmot Collins, a Liberian-American, was installed as the mayor of Helena, Montana.

In Tuesday’s elections, two other Liberians also contested unsuccessfully for the membership of the Board of Osseo School District #279, the fifth largest school district of Minnesota. The district has one of the largest populations of Liberian immigrant students in Brooklyn Park, Maple Grove, Osseo, Plymouth, Rogers, Brooklyn Center, Corcoran and Dayton. It also serves approximately 20,000 students between pre-kindergarten and 12th-grade, in 17 elementary schools; four junior highs and three senior high schools.

Sizi Goyah and Miamon Queenglay lost with 8.47 and 6.41 percent, respectively.

Featured photo courtesy of Minnesota Post

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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