MOORHEAD - Mayor Del Rae Williams says she won't run for a second term in 2018, and now the first candidate seeking to succeed her has emerged.
Newzad Brifki, a leader in the Kurdish-American community here, said he hopes to lead Moorhead, highlighting his love of the city he's called home for two decades and public service in local nonprofit groups.
"This is my town. I have a family here. I love the city," said the married father of three. "We're moving in a good direction - there's growth - so I want to be a part of that, I want to be a part of leading the way."
Williams said she made it clear when she ran in 2013 that it would be her only term. During that election, Moorhead voters changed their election cycle to even-numbered years, allowing Williams to serve five years instead of the normal four.
Five years is enough to accomplish a few things, Williams said, and there are many good people in the community who could serve just as well.
She's Moorhead's first female mayor and the first to have not served previously on the City Council.
Brifki said he'll formally announce his campaign at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6, at the Speak Easy restaurant in south Moorhead.
Brifki is best known as the founder of Kurdish Community of America, a Moorhead-based nonprofit that helps Kurdish refugees make a new life here and advocates for them. Now he wants to tackle issues affecting all city residents, such as crime, special assessments and the lack of a downtown underpass to avoid long waits due to trains.
As a refugee from a predominantly Muslim ethnic community, Brifki appeared very aware the present political climate might lead some voters to define him only by those things.
"I'm a Moorhead resident who happens to have been born a Muslim," he said, citing John F. Kennedy, who called himself a "candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic" when his religion came under scrutiny.
Brifki said he's proud to be a refugee, saying America is a nation built by people who come from other nations seeking safety and opportunity.
A refugee from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, where Kurds were victims of genocidal violence, he arrived in Fargo in 1992 as a 7-year-old. He moved to Moorhead in 1995, where he graduated from high school and college; recently he received a master's degree in business administration from the University of Mary. In 2009, he founded Kurdish Community of America. In 2013, he ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the Fourth Ward.
In running for mayor, he said public safety is his No. 1 concern. As the city grows, he said, it's seen more break-ins and he wants to ensure police have all the resources needed, including a satellite office on the city's south side.
Special assessments are also too high, he said, having recently paid off $26,000 in assessments on his south Moorhead home. The city needs streets and sewers but specials should be affordable to young families seeking to buy their first home, he said.
Other issues important to him include getting the underpass built, which would help downtown drivers and businesses, and making Moorhead more appealing to college students in hopes they'll build a life here after graduating.
He appeared ambivalent about the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion, a $2.2 billion project to protect the metro area from flooding that Williams is working to build. It's a very divisive issue in Moorhead, he said, but "I would make sure that it moves forward if it's the best thing for the city and its future."
From what he's heard and read of the project, he said, "it's good so far."
Moorhead's mayor earns an annual salary of $19,476.