Don Samuels falls short in primary bid against Rep. Ilhan Omar
MINNEAPOLIS, August 9th, 2022 — In a closely watched primary battle for Minnesota’s Fifth District, Rep. Ilhan Omar won an assured third term in Congress after clenching the Democratic nomination by two percentage points—a significantly smaller margin than her most recent primary challenge, Antone Melton-Meaux whom she defeated by over 20 percentage points. Former City Council Member Don Samuels announced his candidacy for the seat in March and campaigned heavily throughout the summer leading up to the August 9th Primary Election. Having outraised Omar in every fundraising quarter reported to the FEC, Samuels presented the strongest challenge Omar has faced to date.
In a written statement responding to the results, Samuels began by addressing Rep. Omar directly, saying “While I expected different results, I would first and foremost like to congratulate Rep. Omar on her victory today. The voters of the Fifth District have signaled their approval of your years in Congress and have made it clear that they want more of your leadership in Washington.”
“There is no denying that our community faces challenges,” Samuels continued. “We must resolve ourselves to the hard work of reducing gun violence and freeing our communities from the vice of rising crime. We must find the things on which we agree and then build on them. And we must listen to
one another and find compromises amongst our disagreements. I campaigned on a promise of making a difference—of working with others. It is now my time to make true on my word and work with Rep. Omar to solve the problems facing our communities. I welcome her help at the federal level as I continue my work here.”
Samuels and other moderate Democrats believed that Omar’s seat was vulnerable after voters in 2021 soundly rejected a ballot measure that would have dismantled the Minneapolis Police Department in favor of a Department of Public Safety. In her first reelection since the defeat of the ballot measure, Samuels drew attention to Omar’s position of “Defund the Police” and her close ties to the failed movement while on the campaign trail.
Samuels was a leader of public safety advocates during the 2021 election and was key in defeating the ballot measure. Having successfully won a lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis in the Minnesota Supreme Court requiring the city to hire more officers to meet its charter mandate, Samuels championed what he calls a “both/and” approach to public safety.
“We need an approach that doesn’t get rid of the police and leave our communities vulnerable to crime. We need to be able to have police departments that are adequately staffed and police officers that are adequately trained for today’s issues and that respect the communities they serve. Having both police keeping communities safe and police respecting those communities’ rights is possible.”
While Samuels campaigned most heavily on public safety as his benchmark issue, his supporters often drew on his collaborative leadership style and ability to reach across the aisle. In an impressive field of endorsements, Samuels’ reputation as a leader who would work with fellow Democrats and others who did not share his positions was a recurring theme.
In his August endorsement, Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis, said “As our city and nation navigate great challenges, we need partners across levels of government who prioritize teamwork, collaboration, and a seriousness of approach to match the seriousness of the issues we face.” Frey served alongside Samuels on the City Council and later ran for mayor against him in 2018.
Frey was joined by four other mayors of the Fifth District as well as five of six living former DFL State Party chairs and a large group of other state and local officials. In addition, Samuels gained the support of four major labor unions—the United Steelworkers, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, and the Minneapolis Building Trades.
“As a nation,” USW District 11 Director Emil Ramirez said in the union’s July endorsement, “if we want to create good jobs, modernize our crumbling infrastructure and expand the middle class, then we need to elect true public servants like Don Samuels, who know how to bring people together to make it happen.”
Voters ultimately rejected Samuels’ style of leadership for Omar’s liberal advocacy. While not being the main mover of legislation in Washington, her voice does amplify many of the younger, more progressive members of the Democratic Party—who many feel is the Party’s future.
A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Samuels was born the third of 10 children to a Pentecostal pastor and seamstress. In 1970, he immigrated to the United States to pursue an education at New York’s Pratt Institute and later became a toy designer for some of the industry’s top companies.
After moving to Minnesota, Samuels met and married his wife and together they moved to the Jordan neighborhood in North Minneapolis, where they continued a lifelong commitment to always live in the most challenged part of their city.
After a bullet went through their soon-to-be-born daughter’s bedroom window, the Samuelses began organizing their neighbors. Together, they began advocating for policy changes and additional resources to improve community safety. Eventually, Samuels ran for office himself, serving three terms on the Minneapolis City Council and one on the Minneapolis Public Schools Board.
For more information and updates, follow Don Samuels online or on social media by visiting www.DonSamuels.com; Don Samuels for Congress on Facebook; @DonSamuelsMN on Instagram; and @DonSamuelsMN on Twitter.