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Fmr. Mpls. City Councilman Don Samuels Will Primary Rep. Ilhan Omar

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Former Minneapolis City Councilman and public safety advocate Don Samuels will run as a Democrat against incumbent U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar for Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District seat, in what will likely be an expensive primary fight.

"In this difficult era we are currently in, I've seen our community having a real need for a different kind of leadership, a leadership that is more connected with community," said Samuels, 72, in an interview with WCCO.

He highlighted his personal experience living and working in north Minneapolis, recalling when he convened his neighbors for "block club" meetings, after a bullet flew through his window soon after he moved into his home.

"From the very beginning it was a style of service that made sure everybody was at the table, that was based on the current and pressing needs," he said. "I'm going to bring that kind of leadership to Washington."

In 2020, Omar faced primary challenger Antone Melton-Meaux, a political newcomer who raised millions in a costly contest. Ultimately, Omar prevailed by 20 points and then won the general election by an even larger margin.

Samuels said he believes that he can beat the odds that generally favor incumbents -- that his connections in his community and his leadership style will propel him to victory.

Omar announced her re-election bid in January, and her campaign said it did not have a comment at this time on Samuels' entry into the race. The Fifth Congressional District is a reliably blue district that includes Minneapolis and some suburbs. Omar was first elected in 2018.

Don Samuels
Don Samuels (credit: CBS)

"[Omar and I are] both Democrats, but very often you wouldn't know it. When you build an infrastructure of contrarian divisiveness, even when you have good ideas, you can't get it passed because you don't have friends," Samuels said. "The difference between us is that I have a collaborative style, demonstrated here, living in the most combative neighborhood in the city."

As a recent rise in crime rattles the Twin Cities, public safety is shaping up to be a top political issue in Minnesota. Following the murder of George Floyd, a proposed charter amendment in Minneapolis on the ballot last fall would've replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency.

Samuels notably opposed that proposal, suing over the language. A majority of voters rejected the language and it failed.

Omar supported it, marking a political fault line between the two.

"I saw a void that we were, my community was experiencing trauma and we need representation to reflect our needs. That we need police, we need good police and we need adequate amounts of police," Samuels said. "Our current Congressperson thought we didn't need police. And that alienated a big part of the city, certainly the Northside community, and I think the votes prove that."

Samuels' campaign has the support of former Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who cited two decades of working alongside Samuels, including while he chaired a public safety committee in the Minneapolis City Council.

"Don is a visionary and pragmatic leader with a proven track record of building diverse coalitions to solve some of our city's most challenging issues, which is why I overwhelmingly support his campaign for Congress," Arradondo said. "I'm confident Don will work hard every day for the people he represents."

From 2003 until 2014, Samuels served on the Minneapolis City Council. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor and served one term on the Minneapolis Board of Education.

An immigrant from Jamaica, he is currently the CEO of MicroGrants, a nonprofit which partners with community organizations to distribute $1,000 grants to improve the lives of low-income people in the Twin Cities.

The primary is set for Aug. 9. Republican candidates Cicely Davis, Royce White and Shukri Abdirahman have announced their campaigns to defeat Omar this fall.

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