WASHINGTON – Former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels is launching a bid to defeat U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, giving the Democrat a prominent challenge from within her own party.
In an interview with the Star Tribune, Samuels contrasted his leadership style with Omar's. He noted her support of last fall's Minneapolis ballot question that could have replaced the city's police department with a new public safety agency following the police killing of George Floyd.
"Representative Omar has demonstrated she's out of touch with the residents of Minneapolis in the last election," said Samuels, 72. "And I've shown that I was very much in touch with the sentiments of the citizenry."
A spokesperson for Omar's campaign declined to comment Tuesday on Samuels' entry into the race.
Samuels has been one of the most prominent figures in Minneapolis pushing for more police following Floyd's death and an uptick in violent crime. A recent count showed that Minneapolis has about 300 fewer officers than it did before Floyd was killed.
Samuels and his wife, Sondra Samuels, joined six other North Side residents in a lawsuit arguing that the city needed to increase police staffing levels because it wasn't meeting the minimum requirements outlined in the city's charter. A judge ruled in their favor and gave city leaders until the end of June to hire nearly 190 more officers — or explain why they can't. The city appealed and is awaiting a ruling.
Last year, Samuels, his wife, and local businessman Bruce Dachis brought another lawsuit challenging how the city chose to word the policing ballot question.
Samuels' decision to enter the race now leaves him with a short window to fundraise and run a credible campaign. Joe Radinovich, who ran Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey's winning campaign last year, is Samuels' campaign manager. Former Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is endorsing Samuels' campaign.
While Samuels said housing and economic disparities are among the issues he will focus on in his campaign, he also pointed to Omar's decision to vote no on a U.S. Capitol Security spending bill last year, breaking with most House Democrats. Omar also bucked her party last November when she voted against a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package as she pushed for progress on a larger spending bill funding child care, universal preschool and the battle against climate change.
"I want to go to Washington to make a difference, not to make a point," Samuels said. "And I think Representative Omar has made points, a lot of points, and gotten a lot of press because of points [that] are controversial and they are dramatic. But they don't get things done. They're divisive."
Omar, a nationally known progressive, heads into her latest race with the advantage of having won the seat twice. The 39-year-old's campaign closed out last year with around $438,000 in cash, according to federal election records.
Samuels lost a run for mayor in 2013 and later served one term on the Minneapolis school board. In 2020, Samuels endorsed DFL challenger Antone Melton-Meaux in a primary run against Omar, who won by nearly 20 percentage points.
Three Republicans are running for the Fifth District seat this year. Omar won the November 2020 general election by around 38 percentage points, and the seat hasn't been held by a Republican for decades.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.