Columbus Somali Community Prepares To Vote.

As Campaign 2006 enters its final week, candidates seek out the diminishing ranks of undecided voters. In Columbus, those ranks might include members of the city’s large Somali population. During the week-end, an estimated 150 or more people crowded into Mifflin Middle School auditorium for a forum sponsored by The Somali link newspaper.

Twenty-Four political candidates outlined their positions on issues ranging from local tax policy to the war in Iraq. Mahdi Taakilo, president of The Somali Link Newspaper says the first-candidates forum for the city’s growing Somali population is a political watershed. “Really as new Americans in this country we want to be part of the democratic process in this country has.” Says Mahdi Taakilo

Mahdi estimates more than 20-thousand Somalis in Columbus have now gained citizenship and are eligible to go to the polls next week. Among the audience, young woman Ubah Gani and her mother Ali Bilan. “I’m here to support whoever we think that could help us as community as like American. We become part of America now, we have so much gaps.” Says Ali Bilan. Her daughter adds:”I’m not a citizen so I can’t vote. But I can still tell my friends like to vote or stuff like that, so.” Says Ubah Gani.

At the podium, candidates tried to bridge those gaps. Republican congressional incumbent Pat Tiberi spoke of his immigrant grandparents and his constituent services. His challenger, Democrat Bob Shamansky referenced President Bush’s use of the term “Islamic-fascist” and then told the audience, “The U-S is not at war with Islam.” Green Party candidate for governor, Bob Fitrakis drew the loudest applause after speaking out against the war in Iraq and warrantless wiretaps.

Still, some spot interviews of audience members indicate more local concerns. Farhiya Isse says even though many Somalis earn citizenship and learn English they are still too often turned down when applying for jobs. “Take as example my people. Is the hardest job that we can get jobs is the language. And I understand everybody don’t speak the language but they really try hard to understand but most they don’t give us jobs. So they say you don’t speak that well so good-bye. So I want to say that will be the biggest problem, jobs and people having issues about it.” Says Farhiya Isse.

Muhammed Hassan will turn 18 years old in January. His family has been in Columbus for 7 years and while he’s not eligible to vote next week he says he will cast a ballot next November. He’s worries about crime. “The streets that we live at, the area that we live at is not very good to be honest.Drugs are on the street, violence everywhere.” Says Muhammed Hassan.

Muhammed Egal traveled to the forum from his west side agency. He serves as Vice President of African Refugee Education Service at Sullivant Avenue and Georgesville Road. He says the political activity by the Somali community is a signal to local, state, and federal political leadership. “We are the new Americans so we are requesting our brothers and those who are guys who are running for candidates to look back and to try to support our community. We have so many issues. We are farawy behind from the rest of American communities.” Says Muhammed Egal.

He adds that as more Central Ohio Somalis gain U-S citizenship they boost their potential strength on election day. He says the community leaders will watch closely next week to gauge turn-out among some of the area’s newest Americans.

Tom Borgerding