Those who know me well were not surprised by my decision to challenge Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District race. As an immigrant, North Sider and lifelong Democrat, I am no stranger to hard work and overcoming obstacles.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, the third of 10 children of a Pentecostal minister and seamstress. At 20 years old, I emigrated to the United States to pursue a college education and a career as a toy designer for some of America's most recognizable brands. All the while, I maintained a personal commitment to reside in a low-income community while others were leaving them behind. Eventually, my wife, Sondra, and I settled in north Minneapolis 25 years ago.
Our first week in the new house, a bullet went through the bedroom window of our soon-to-be-born daughter. Sondra and I began to organize. Together, we hosted block club meetings in our living room, working with our neighbors to advocate for additional city resources to improve safety. After a few years, those same neighbors asked me to run for office. I did, serving three terms on the Minneapolis City Council and one term on the Minneapolis school board. As a result of my work in the private and public sectors, I am focused on outcomes and care deeply about what happens to my neighbors and our nation.
I made the decision to run for Congress for one reason: As the exhausted majority of our neighbors struggle through the unprecedented challenges surrounding us, the approach taken by leaders like Omar fails us. We need a representative who is focused on working together in service to the needs of our communities, even with those whom the representative disagrees with.
I also believe Democrats must be the party to rebuild trust in our institutions and improve them for future generations. While the GOP's election lies imperil our democracy, dissatisfaction with Democrats on core issues like public safety threatens to upend our congressional majorities, an essential safeguard against the looming threat of authoritarianism. We cannot allow this to happen. The stakes are too high.
In many ways, Omar and I have much in common. We are both immigrants. As Democrats, we both support codifying a woman's right to choose, eliminating race-based disparities, protecting voting rights, advancing universal health care as a human right, ensuring LGBTQ equality, and addressing the existential threat that is our climate crisis. That's why I voted for her at the time. However, I quickly became disappointed with her all-or-nothing style in Congress and seemingly endless string of controversies, including anti-Semitic remarks and being one of only two congressional Democrats who refused to support a resolution recognizing the tragedy of Armenian genocide.
Then, George Floyd was murdered.
Both here, and around the world, the murder of an unarmed Black man under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer drew shock and outrage. Even so, Omar's response to our initial pain and fury was not accountability, compassion or unity, but instead to "Defund the Police."
As we began to see an unprecedented rise in violent crime across the Fifth District and around the country, Omar emphatically stated the phrase "Defund the Police" was not a slogan, but a policy demand. While my neighbors and I questioned the wisdom of her approach, former President Barack Obama rightly pointed out that the slogan had the potential to alienate entire groups of people at a time when police accountability was needed most. With the world's attention focused on Minneapolis, we missed our opportunity to come together in the wake of tragedy and create true progress.
In contrast, Sondra and I have dedicated our lives to lowering violent crime, making our community safe for everyone, and creating solutions to police brutality. That is why we became part of the Minneapolis 8, suing the city to ensure we had the required number of police officers based on our city charter. The Minnesota Supreme Court recently heard our case, and we prevailed. Our community needs both safety and justice, which is why, in addition to programs incentivizing more high-quality individuals to enter policing, I also support measures like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would enhance national accountability standards.
When Omar returned to Washington for a second term, she deepened her opposition to policing by being one of three Democrats to join every Republican in voting against a bill intended to increase funding for U.S. Capitol security after the Jan. 6 insurrection. One police officer died the following day, while four cops later committed suicide after that violent assault on our democracy. Omar's vote to deny their families support and leave our Capitol vulnerable is shortsighted.
Several of Omar's other votes are equally stunning. She was among only a few Democrats to vote with the most extreme GOP members in opposing Russian oil sanctions and measures to penalize Russian oligarchs and war profiteers by seizing their assets, including luxury properties, private jets and yachts.
Critically, when Congress had the opportunity to pass Joe Biden's landmark infrastructure bill, my opponent was one of six congressional Democrats who voted against the president and the billions of dollars dedicated to building not just roads, bridges and rails but also crucial investments in electric car infrastructure and other improvements that would make Minnesota's air and water cleaner. These projects create the type of good-paying union jobs on which so many families depend.
As my opponent capably demonstrates, any politician can make a point. I want to go to D.C. to make a real difference in the lives of my neighbors and my fellow Americans. Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District and our nation deserve nothing less.
Don Samuels is the CEO of MicroGrants and is one of five DFL candidates for Congress in Minnesota's Fifth District. The party's top finisher in the Aug. 9 primary will move on to the general election in November.