WASHINGTON — Six days after Samuels and his family moved in to their Minneapolis home in the Jordan neighborhood, Don Samuels was shot.
Samuels stated that the 1997 incident made it clear that he needed to address violence in his North Minneapolis neighborhood. Twenty-five-years later, he is trying to get his support for law enforcement into Congress. He challenged a progressive superstar, Rep. Ilhan Ola, to run for the Democratic candidate representing ultra-blue District 5 .
Samuels stated that he entered politics because of the violence in his community. “I want the solution to a problem that seems impossible.”
The Democratic primary was held on Aug. 9. It is a contest of ideologies. Samuels is a moderate Democrat, and Omar, 39 a trailblazing activist from the multicultural left.
There is also a generational divide with established Democrats, including former DFL party officers, backing Samuels, 73, and younger progressive party members in the district who remain loyal to Omar.
Omar, proud to be “the only woman of color to represent the State,” was elected to Congress in a special election. This was to fill the seat of Keith Ellison, a former Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison. Ellison ran unsuccessfully for the office of state attorney general.
In the 2018 Democratic primary race she defeated five other Democrats, including one with more political experience than her, having served only one term in Minnesota House. She’s easily beaten other Democratic opponents since then. She hopes to do it again and then easily turn back Republican Cicely Davies in November’s general elections.
Omar stated that “the people I represent know my work, and I expect they will re-elect us by a large margin.”
Jacob Rubashkin, of Inside Elections, said Samuels was a clear underdog.
He stated that Omar faced a more well-funded opponent, Antone Melton–Meaux, last cycle and defeated him by 20 points. It’s difficult to unseat an incumbent. Especially if they know they are facing a serious challenge. Omar appears to be taking this race seriously as she has already spent $2million more than the primary.
Omar, a Somalian native, lived as a child in a refugee camp near Nairobi for four years before moving to the United States. Omar said that she experienced “real hunger” in the camp. The lawmaker is a graduate with a career in nutrition and public healthcare issues. She has fought for affordable housing in the U.S. House and addressed health care inequities.
Omar stated, “We must feed the stomachs of our children before they feed their brains.”
She is, however, perhaps best known for being a founding member and leader of the “Squad” as well as her calls to “defund police” following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
This issue, policing, is the core of Samuels’ race to Omar.
Samuels led the fight to defeat Question 2 during the Minneapolis city elections. This proposed charter amendment would have replaced Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety. The amendment was defeated with a vote of 56 percent to 44 percent.
Samuels stated, “I was at the tip of the spear against defunding police,”
Samuels believes that cities such as Minneapolis do not need less police but more.
He said that while police may have some head knockers, good law enforcement officers are necessary to protect the public. He said that he supports reform and supports the George Floyd Policing Act, which aims to improve local policing.
It’s not either/or. Samuels stated that it’s both-and. This stance is shared with a majority House Democrats, who shun the idea of “defunding police” and are now responding to GOP accusations that they are “soft-on crime.”
Lee Munnich is a former Minneapolis City Council Member and former DFL 5.
The former DLF official who endorsed Samuels is the chair of the Congressional District. He claimed that he had met Samuels during the campaign to defeat Question 2 in which he was impressed. Munnich stated that Samuels has the support and potential victory over Omar of the DFL Senior Caucus.
He stated, “I believe he’s an extremely strong candidate and think that he could win it.”
Samuels was also involved with the promotion of another ballot initiative last spring, which succeeded in giving the Minneapolis mayor more power and the city council less. Samuels was a former member of the city council. Samuels was also an at-large member of Minneapolis’ Board of Education. However, he has a frosty relationship to the teachers’ unions because he supports vouchers and school choice.
Samuels says that allowing mothers to choose a better school is not an option, as Minnesota has a learning gap between children who attend schools in rich and middle-class areas and those who live in low-income communities.
Samuels stated that there is a wide gap between black and white children in America.
The state was ranked 50th in 2019 for high school graduation rates that were racialally disparate.
The power and incumbency
Samuels was born in Jamaica and went to college in the United States. He became an industrial designer. Samuels felt a call to public service after a 30 year career. Sondra Samuels, his wife, is also the CEO of Northside Achievement Zone, an early childhood education non profit.
Omar considers him a moderate Democrat with a “very progressive lifestyle”. He supports Omar on many issues including the need for abortion rights to be protected and fighting voter suppression.
He views Omar, however, as “divisive.”
Samuels stated, “So much is at stake. We need people who are able to unite.”
Omar and her supporters paint Samuels, a corporate-backed conservative, as out of touch with progressive residents in the 5 th district.
Omar stated that she was not surprised by the Democratic challenger she received.
She said, “When you stand up for corporate interests they always find a means to recruit and pursue you.”
Omar’s progressive nature has made her a national figure and received national fundraising support. Samuels, however, has been able to raise more political cash than Omar. Most of his individual donations have come from the state. Samuels ended the second quarter with $530,000 in cash, as opposed to $460,000 for Omar’s campaign.
Samuels stated that his connections in the private sector, which he developed as an industrial designer, and those he has met in non-profits as a community activist helped him raise funds. Samuels also stated that the business community supports his campaign as they appreciate his efforts to defeat Question 2.
He said, “I just need to make calls.”
Samuels is however up against the power and incumbency.
Kyle Kondik, University of Virginia Center for Politics, stated that Omar was outraised by Don Samuels last quarter. However, he isn’t raising as much money in 2020 than Omar’s challenger.
Kondik stated that it is difficult to determine if an incumbent congressional representative is vulnerable in a primary. “I believe that an incumbent should be fine in primary because incumbents almost always win the re-nomination they desire.”
Elizabeth Glidden (Omar supporter, former Minneapolis City Council member), doesn’t believe Samuels deserves a bigger political stage.
Glidden asks, “Who would do a better job at Congress?” “(Omar), does not deserve to being challenged. She has the results she deserves.”
Glidden, a housing nonprofit worker, said that she was grateful Omar took the lead in fighting for affordable housing on Capitol Hill. She demanded that efforts to assist low-income tenants be included within several pandemic response legislations.
Omar claimed that the pandemic had stopped her campaigning two-years ago. She now says she is door knocking in both urban and suburban neighborhoods.
She said, “They are shocked that they’re at the door.”