If someone had told Nadia Mohamed when she was a child that she would one day become mayor of the city where she grew up, she would have said, “you are lying.”
But on Tuesday Mohamed achieved just that when she was elected Mayor of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, making her the first Somali American to win a general election for mayor.
“It feels amazing,” Mohamed told CNN. “Honestly, I’m grateful, I am thankful to the voters of St. Louis Park for voting me in.”
Mohamed said she and her family moved to the suburban city west of Minneapolis when she was 10 years old. Nearly two decades later, the 27-year-old celebrated an election night victory with her family and the community she loves.
“I was thrilled and over the moon,” Mohamed said. “It’s been like a moment of a lifetime.”
Mohamed said she plans to dedicate her tenure to elevating and addressing the concerns of St. Louis Park’s roughly 50,000 residents.
“I am somebody from the community,” she said. “I want to include people’s voices and highlight their stories – as I would have wanted somebody to do for me – regardless of their skin color and identity and religion.”
In 2019, Mohamed was elected to the city council when she was 23 years old. After serving for four years, she decided to launch a bid for mayor.
The campaign was hard fought, she said, and critics often hurled insults at her on social media for not only her young age, but also her Somali heritage.
“People are filled with hate and don’t want you to be a part of their neighborhoods or part of their community because they don’t want to share that,” Mohamed said.
But her victory Tuesday put an end to any questions of belonging, she said.
“If you don’t want to share, you can go somewhere else,” she said. “But I’m staying here.”
Mohamed said she’s aware that she’s stepping into her position at a time of increased antisemitism and anti-Muslim bias across the country.
In the days after the Oct 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Mohamed said her first concern was ensuring the safety of her Jewish and Muslim residents.
“One of my first calls was to the police department to make sure that our synagogues are safe and protected and that we take the necessary security procedures,” she said.
“And it would have been the same if we had a mosque.”
In the month since violence escalated between Israel and Hamas, Mohamed said she has continued to meet with Jewish and Muslim leaders in the St. Louis Park community.
“My heart goes out to all the people who are visible in their identities, who are being impacted by this type of violence and this type of disrespect,” she told CNN. “We condemn all of that.”
A milestone but not the destination
The walls of City Hall in St. Louis Park are lined with photos of the mayors that have represented the Minnesota city for over 100 years.
“And now my picture gets to go up there,” Mohamed said, adding that she hopes her image will be a physical representation of the city’s progress toward inclusion.
“Fifty years from now, there’s going to be the next generation who will see my photo there,” she said. “Representation absolutely matters because it shows people that things can happen, and they can see themselves reflected in their story books and their policies.”
St. Louis Park is represented by Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first woman of color elected to represent Minnesota and the first Somali American elected to Congress. Omar celebrated Mohamed’s election Tuesday on social media.
“These milestones we are breaking as Somali Americans isn’t accidental, it’s hard work and believe in ourselves,” Omar wrote. “I am glad to have paved the way and can’t wait to see what more milestones we will cross as a community.”
Mohamed said her win shows people of color across the US are no longer hiding in the background.
“We’re front and center and we’re going to be visible in our identities,” she said. “This is a big milestone, but it’s not the destination.”
Mohamed’s victory marks the first time a Somali American won the general election to lead an American city.
In 2021, Deqa Dhalac, was selected to be mayor in a unanimous vote by the South Portland, Maine, city council, and is recognized as the country’s first Somali American mayor, according to New American Leaders, an organization that trains and encourages immigrants to run for office.
Ghida Dagher, the organization’s president, said she sees the rise of Somali American women in US politics as a sign of a new era.
“From Deqa winning a couple of years ago to Nadia now winning as well … it shows that New Americans are building their political power in the United States,” Dagher said.
“It just represents the resiliency, the commitment that New Americans have to their communities and the optimism that we have in the seat of being able to lead.”
Dagher said Mohamed has been a dedicated public servant and she hopes the newly-elected mayor will bring a fresh perspective and voice to city government “that maybe hasn’t always represented its people.”
Mohamed will be sworn into office in January. Until then, she said she will continue focusing on the city council’s housing and public safety initiatives.
“I just want to thank every resident, every voter who went out and voted and made (my election) possible,” Mohamed said.
“We are diverse in our skin, in our religions, in our ethnicities, but we are a community nevertheless. And so this means that they get to see me representing every single person who is a resident here.”
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