Rising Democrat Ismail Mohamed Represents the Changing Face of Somali Politics

Zahir Janmohamed
Photos by Tim Johnson

Ismail Mohamed is, by his own admission, an unusual emerging voice in Ohio politics and in the Somali community of Columbus. First, there is his age. The 26-year-old, Somalia-born Mohamed graduated from Ohio State University Law School last year and often hears pushback from Somalis in Columbus that he is not ready for politics. According to Mohamed, electoral politics is usually the domain of older people among Somalis, something he says has to do with the fact that the minimum age to be president of Somalia is 40.

But the other, more unlikely reason for Mohamed’s political rise is that he just lost an election. In May, Mohamed ran in the Democratic primary against the incumbent, Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent, to represent the 25th district in the Ohio Statehouse. It was his first time contesting an election, and many expected him to be soundly defeated, given his lack of experience and name recognition. To the surprise of many, including himself, he ended up losing only by 658 votes to the incumbent, who received 45.71 percent of the vote compared with Mohamed’s 39.68 percent. If he had won, Mohamed would have been the first Somali elected official in Ohio.

As a result of his strong showing in the polls, Mohamed was made an official consultant to the Democratic Party of Columbus, helping Democrats reach out to immigrants who have recently acquired U.S. citizenship. It’s a huge shift from a year ago, when Mohamed could not convince anyone in the Democratic Party to take him seriously, let alone return his phone calls.

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