Voters cast their ballots in state and local elections at Pillow Boro Hall in Pillow, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 5, 2019. …
FILE - Voters across the United States cast their ballots in state and local elections on Nov. 5, 2019, electing two Somali American women to city council seats in Minnesota and Maine.

Two Somali American women have won seats on city councils in Minnesota and Maine, U.S. states with sizable communities from the African diaspora.

Voters on Tuesday elected Nadia Mohamed for an at-large seat in St. Louis Park, a western suburb of Minneapolis, in the Midwestern state of Minnesota, and chose Safiya Khalid to represent a ward in Lewiston, in the northeastern state of Maine. 

Both ran as Democrats and will be the first Somali immigrants on their respective councils. Both also are 23 and are black, hijab-wearing Muslims.

Their election victories represent "not only a success for Somalis and Muslims but also a great success for American values, based on diversity and multiculturalism and respect for women," said Hashi Shafi, who heads the Somali Action Alliance. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit promotes civic engagement and leadership. 

Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the United States. In 2018, voters there elected Ilhan Omar to the U.S. House of Representatives, after she had served two years in the state House of Representatives. The Democrat is the first Somali American and one of the first Muslim women to serve in the U.S. Congress. 

Refugee background

Like Omar, Khalid was a child when she came to the United States. She was 7 when she and her family moved from a refugee camp in Kenya to the eastern U.S. state of New Jersey before settling in Maine. 

Khalid said negative comments about Islam — by President Donald Trump and by Maine's former governor Paul LePage, among others — helped motivate her to seek office in Lewiston. 

As a candidate, Khalid encountered "vile abuse" by internet trolls who told her she "had no place in American government and said I should go back to where I came from," she told VOA. 

For a time, she deactivated her Facebook page.   

But she campaigned door to door, knocking at "over 2,000 houses, asking people of different backgrounds — black, Caucasian, Asian, and of different faiths — to support me with their votes."

She won nearly 70% of the vote.

Promising 'fresh perspective'

In Minnesota's St. Louis Park, Mohamed received more than 63% of the vote.

She, too, had come to the United States as a refugee whose family fled civil war in Somalia. She served for three years on the city police department's multicultural advisory committee, helping to connect communities.

As a candidate, she said being a young Muslim woman of color "would bring a fresh perspective to our city leadership. I have unique life experiences and a passion for the betterment of our city and its residents. I also know the significance of building spaces where people feel safe and accepted."