SeaTac community mourns activist and city council member Amina Ahmed

Community members hold a vigil for Amina Ahmed, an activist and SeaTac City Council member who died following a head-on collision in SeaTac Dec. 8. (Photo by Lupe Carlos III, courtesy MAPS-AMEN)

The SeaTac City Council opened its regular meeting Dec. 11 with a moment of silence to honor Amina Ahmed, a long-time community activist and city council member who died Dec. 8 following a head-on collision on South 188th Street, just south of Sea-Tac International Airport.

Her colleagues on the seven-member city council stood in silence at the dais before a crowded group of community members. A bouquet of purple and white flowers with a matching wreath marked the space where Ahmed would have sat that evening, just seven weeks after she was appointed to an open seat on the city council.

Community members held a vigil earlier that evening to honor and remember Ahmed and her many contributions to the community.

Ahmed, 52, was an advocate for immigrants and refugees, working with the Refugee Women’s Alliance and serving as executive director for Partner in Employment, which helps immigrants and refugees find success in the labor market.

Ahmed was one of more than a dozen candidates who applied to fill a vacancy left by Mayor Mike Siefkes, who stepped down amid investigations by King County into his work as a lawyer.

“The SeaTac City Council became whole again when Amina was sworn in on Oct. 23,” SeaTac Mayor Erin Sitterley said at the Dec. 11 city council meeting. “In fact, it may be said that we were better than whole, because we were better for her presence. Her unexpected and untimely passing on Dec. 8 leaves a void, which will be very difficult to fill.”

SeaTac is a city of 29,000 people and houses the Sea-Tac International Airport, along with many adjacent businesses related to the airport, including restaurants, hotels and paid parking lots.

Many community members expressed hope in her appointment; she was the first Somali-American to sit on the SeaTac City Council.

Her appointment followed ongoing protest of the city’s plan to sell SeaTac Center, a commercial complex on International Boulevard that houses a number of businesses owned predominately by Muslims and East Africans. City documents outlined a plan to have a new owner tear down the existing business center and redevelop the property, potentially displacing an important business hub to these communities.

“This is absolutely the result of our fight to have a representation and voice,” Takele Gobena said of Ahmed’s appointment in October in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. Gobena had also applied for the vacancy.

Out of respect for Ahmed, who was a strong advocate for the business owners in the complex, the SeaTac City Council canceled a plan to discuss the property during its Dec. 11 meeting. Community members and activists appreciated the decision but asked that the city council delay further conversation until January to give them time to grieve.

“Our community is heartbroken, they are devastated by the loss of Amina, and this issue is already tearing apart our community,” Hamdi Mohamed said to the city council at the Dec. 11 meeting.

At the same meeting, Sitterley read an article Ahmed wrote that was to be published in an upcoming city newsletter. In it, Ahmed thanked the community for allowing her the opportunity to support the community in government.

“When I moved to South King County in 1999, I never imagined that I would have this unique opportunity to give back to the community that I have worked in and called home for almost two decades,” she said. “My work serving the recently arrived immigrant and refugees provided me a unique perspective to understand the needs and services that best support all SeaTac residents. Although we don’t have to agree on every issue, I believe it will take all of us coming together to approach issues with discussion and logic that will benefit our entire community of SeaTac.”