Former Brooklyn Park City Council Member Wynfred Russell Formally Launches Campaign for Minnesota House Seat

Wynfred Russell, a nonprofit executive, is running to represent District 38A currently held by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL) for 22 years.

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Former Brooklyn Park City Council member Wynfred Russell formally launches campaign for Minnesota House seat
Former Brooklyn Park City Council member Wynfred Russell speaks during the formal launch of his campaign for the Minnesota House of Representatives to represent District 38A on Saturday, March 30, 2024 in Osseo. Photo: Tom Gitaa/Mshale

Former Brooklyn Park City Council member Wynfred Russell, formally launched his campaign for the Minnesota House of Representatives Saturday evening during an event in Osseo featuring former Brooklyn Park Mayor Lisa Jacobson.

Mr. Russell, a nonprofit executive, is running to represent District 38A currently held by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL). Rep. Nelson, who has held the seat for 22 years, announced in January that he will retire at the end of his term and “pass the torch.”

The Liberian American is the second Democrat to join the race after Kenyan American Huldah Hiltsley announced her bid last October. Both candidates have indicated they will be seeking the endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party (DFL) at the party’s April 13 District 38 convention.

Mr. Russell told about 100 supporters at the launch on Saturday that he does not plan to abide by the party’s endorsement if he does not receive it.

Photos of the formal launch of former Brooklyn Park City Council member Wynfred Russell’s campaign for the Minnesota House of Representatives on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Osseo. (Tom Gitaa)

“So even if we don’t make it through the convention, we are going to go all the way to the primary which will be on August 13, so I will need your support and vote,” Mr. Russell said.

Mshale followed up with Ms. Hiltsley after Mr. Russell’s event to ask whether she will abide by the DFL endorsement if it goes to his opponent. In a written statement, she said she will not abide by the endorsement either, because she considers herself a stronger Democrat than Mr. Russell, and will go on to the primary “and let the people decide because we need someone committed to the DFL Party’s values.”

The August 13 state primary will decide the candidate for each party in the November 5 general election.

The heavily Democratic District 38A encompasses the southern half of Brooklyn Park and the entire city of Osseo. The other half of Brooklyn Park is represented by Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman. Brooklyn Park which has a population of over 86,000 is a minority-majority city, with people of color accounting for 55% of the population. People who identify themselves as Black or African American make up more than 29% in Brooklyn Park, making them the single largest minority group, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. African immigrants fondly refer to the city and neighboring Brooklyn Center as “Little Africa.” Neighboring Osseo that is also in District 38A has a population of just over 2,600 according to the U.S. Census, with 80% of them white.

Born in Liberia, Mr. Russell came to the United States in 2005 as a refugee student on a scholarship, he told Mshale in a previous interview. He received a master’s in international and global studies from Northern Michigan University upon which the University of Minnesota recruited him to work as a public health researcher at the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). Upon arriving in Minnesota, he settled in New Brighton and started his life in academia. A devout Methodist, he immediately had to look for a church home and started attending United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Park and his eventual involvement in the city’s issues.

In 2018 Mr. Russell became the first Liberian American elected to the Brooklyn Park City Council where he served one term. Rather than go for a second term in 2022, he opted to run for Mayor of Brooklyn Park where he garnered a respectable 40% of the vote, but lost to now Mayor Hollies Winston.

“I am going there (legislature) to ensure the community’s needs and interests are well served,” said Mr. Russell.

During a 12-minute speech, Russell made it clear that he wants the community to be at the table when policies and laws affecting them are being crafted. He said his priorities for Brooklyn Park and Osseo – if elected include: crime reduction, support for small businesses, more resources for schools, mental health and “ensuring Brooklyn Park and Osseo become resilient cities against the effects of climate change and global warming.”

His desire to move to state politics has been evident since his mayoral bid loss. He has been teasing his impending entry into the race via his active social media presence since last year, when there were signs Rep. Nelson might not seek reelection.

On crime reduction, Mr. Russell said he will push for more support and resources to be given to law enforcement by the Legislature “because our police need more support.”

On small business, and particularly microbusinesses, he said he will draw on his past experience as a Council member where he championed the development of the city’s Small Business Center, a city funded 25,000 square feet co-working space that offers offices and retail spaces that opened last August.

“The largest number of immigrant students in the state of Minnesota learn at Osseo School District, so we need to provide the resources the district needs to continue to thrive and educate our kids,” he said.

Mr. Russell pointed out that mental health, especially among the senior population, continues to be a taboo subject in the community and a bill to address the issue has stalled at the legislature “because we don’t have someone at the table.” He vowed to make it a priority once elected.

Sitting in the event room at Milah Royal Bistro and eating African food and listening to speeches, many of Mr.  Russell’s friends and supporters had positive words to describe the candidate: Experienced, capable, caring.

Mr. Varmun Kamara, the campaign’s treasurer, told Mshale that his candidate, besides being very passionate about public service, is the most qualified in the race given his track record.

“If you look at his credentials, he has been a public servant for more than a decade – including the four years on the Brooklyn Park (City) Council and he has also been in public health for many years,” said Mr. Kamara.

Ms. Loretta Gborplay of Coon Rapids is a registered nurse that used to live in District 38A. She said even though she can no longer vote in the district she is planning to “give money and call all my friends in the area to go vote for him because he is the most capable – and post as much as possible on social media.”

Former Brooklyn Park Mayor Lisa Jacobson, who served on the Council with Mr. Russell, said the latter was not a typical politician.

“He cares about all of you, people who look like me, and people who don’t look like either one of us,” she said. “And that is the true sign of a community leader.”

Originally published on Mshale by Tom Gitaa

About the Author: Tom Gitaa is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Publisher of Mshale, a news outlet covering African immigrant news in the USA since 1995. He holds a BA in Business from Metro State University and a Public Leadership Credential from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Tom has served on various boards, including Global Minnesota and Books for Africa, and currently serves on the boards of New Vision Foundation and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium.

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