Congresswoman Ilhan Omar wins Democratic endorsement for 5th Congressional District

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A beaming U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar gets ready to address the Fifth Congressional District's Democratic convention on Saturday, May 11, 2024 after securing the party’s endorsement for her reelection in the first round of balloting. Mshale Staff Photo by Richard Ooga

Democrats in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District on Saturday endorsed U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar for reelection in an unprecedented style – it was the first time in her congressional career that she received the local party unit’s nod in the first round.

She first ran in 2018 and has won the endorsement in subsequent reelection bids, but it has required multiple rounds of voting by delegates.

Rep. Omar was being challenged for the Democratic endorsement by former Minneapolis Council member Don Samuels, an immigrant from Jamaica, and U.S. Airforce veteran Tim Peterson.

133 of the 216 credentialed delegates at the convention, which took place at South High School in Minneapolis, threw their support behind Rep. Omar to get her above the 60 percent threshold required for party endorsement.

This is the second time Mr. Samuels was challenging Rep. Omar for the endorsement. In 2022 he came up short but proceeded to the primary where he narrowly lost to Omar. In the question-and-answer session preceding the vote, both candidates were asked if they will suspend their campaign if they do not win the endorsement, with Mr. Samuels replying no while Rep. Omar said she will.

“Our congressional district has always been exceptional, it elected Keith Ellison as the first Muslim member of congress and when you elected me as the first Muslim woman, you told the world that this district is unlike any in the country,” said Omar, who is the first woman of color to represent Minnesota in Congress. “It is a place where we believe in progress and that change is possible. It tells me that we should stop listening to the naysayers.”

Former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar for the second time, delivers his pitch for party endorsement at the Fifth Congressional District’s Democratic convention on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Mshale Staff Photo by Richard Ooga

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the person who last represented the district in Congress before Omar, nominated her, saying “When I was your congressman we had the lowest voter turnout of any congressional district in the state. But now we have the largest turnout in the state because Ilhan continues to turn out the vote,” adding that the congresswoman’s ground game has been critical in maintaining Minnesota as a blue state.

State Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis, a delegate who voted for Omar, told Mshale as the convention concluded that she does not foresee a repeat of 2022 when the congresswoman narrowly escaped defeat.

“Her win here today shows the strong support she has within the district, she has been there for us when we needed her and are glad that we could show our support back for us and thanks for all the hard work she does back in Washington,” Rep. Agbaje said. “It is the will of the people.”

Messrs. Don Samuels and Tim Peterson shake hands on stage during the Fifth Congressional District’s Democratic convention on Saturday, May 11, 2024 after Mr. Peterson said he is dropping out of the congressional race and throwing his supporting behind Mr. Samuels. Mshale Staff Photo by Richard Ooga

Minneapolis City Council member Jamal Osman, who represents Cedar-Riverside and is also a former refugee from Somali like Omar, said people tend to underestimate how hard the congresswoman works for her constituents regardless of their station in life.

“I was super surprised that she got this in the first ballot, but then I should not because she is very close to the people, listening and doing what needs to be done, as a councilman I know what she has brought to us in Minneapolis,” Mr. Osman said.

Candidates Ilhan Omar and Don Samuels listen to questions from delegates during the Fifth Congressional District’s Democratic convention on Saturday, May 11, 2024 as they each sought the party’s endorsement. Delegates endorsed Omar in the first round of voting. Mshale Staff Photo by Richard Ooga

Speaking from the podium at the convention, Mayor Terry Wiggin of Hilltop, echoed Mr. Osman’s picture of a congresswoman working hard for her constituents.

In a heartfelt thank you to the congresswoman, Mayor Wiggin said his small city of just 958 people was chosen by Rep. Omar for the funding of its much-needed emergency storm shelter.

“It might not have been the most politically savvy thing to choose Hilltop, but she did not see it as a political decision but as an obligation to constituents that had no lobbyists to fight for them,” said Mayor Wiggin.

Delegates hold signs calling for a ceasefire in Gaza during the Fifth Congressional District’s Democratic convention on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Delegates endorsed Rep. Ilhan Omar in her reelection bid. Mshale Staff Photo by Richard Ooga

Rep. Omar’s victory was preceded by some drama from Mr. Peterson who appeared on stage for his speech to the delegates with just his wife and children, and two other supporters, a marked contrast to Ms. Omar and Mr. Samuels who had dozens of supporters behind them as they gave their speeches. He however took full advantage of his allotted minutes pontificating about a color-blind society, and criticizing Rep. Omar, only to announce at the end that he is dropping out of the race and throwing his support behind Mr. Samuels with the latter quickly leaving his seat smiling and went to shake his new supporter’s hand.

Saturday’s convention in terms of issues of concern to delegates were similar to the last endorsement duel between the two in 2022, as were their answers, except for one – the war in Gaza.

Waving signs that read “ILHAN FOR CEASFIRE,” it became clear the war in the Middle East between Hamas and Israel was foremost in the minds of delegates.

Signs supporting Tim Peterson, Ilhan Omar and Don Samuels, line up the walkway to South High School in Minneapolis where the Fifth Congressional District’s Democratic convention on Saturday, May 11, 2024 was taking place. Mshale Staff Photo by Richard Ooga

The two candidates were asked to state their position on the Israel-Hamas conflict with Mr. Samuels responding first. He went on to describe the conflict as a “fraught and very complex situation,” eliciting loud interruptions from the crowd that it is not. He acknowledged the scale of human tragedy that the conflict has brought on innocent women and children but that Israel is a “small isolated country with enemies around especially Iran and its proxies,” and that “any day in Israel there is never a ceasefire.”

Rep. Omar in her response described the conflict as a “genocide (by Israel) taking place in Gaza at the moment.”

“There is no way for us as citizens in this country to continue to allow our tax dollars to pay for the bombs that are destroying the civilian population – you cannot allow the death of one people (Palestinians) to be acceptable while condemning the death of others,” Omar said.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar addresses the Fifth Congressional District’s Democratic convention on Saturday, May 11, 2024 after she won the party’s endorsement in the first round in her bid for a fourth term. Mshale Staff Photo by Richard Ooga

The primary will be on August 13 with early voting by mail or in person starting on June 28 through August 12.

In the overwhelmingly Democratic Fifth Congressional District, the August primary is the defacto election as whoever wins in Omar vs. Samuels rematch is as good as elected in November.

Author

  • Tom Gitaa

    Born and raised in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, Tom is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Mshale which has been reporting on the news and culture of African immigrants in the United States since 1995. He has a BA in Business from Metro State University and a Public Leadership Credential from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He was the original host of Talking Drum, the signature current affairs show on the African Broadcasting Network (ABN-America), which was available nationwide in the United States via the Dish Network satellite service. On the show, he interviewed Nobel laureates such as 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai, the first woman from Africa to win the peace prize and heads of states. Tom has served and chaired various boards including Global Minnesota (formerly Minnesota International Center), the sixth largest World Affairs Council in the United States. He has previously served as the first Black President of the Board of Directors at Books for Africa. He also serves on the boards of New Vision Foundation and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium. He has previously served two terms on the board of the United Nations Association. An avid runner, he retired from running full marathons after turning 50 and now only focuses on training for half marathons.

About Tom Gitaa Gitaa, Editor-in-Chief

Born and raised in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, Tom is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Mshale which has been reporting on the news and culture of African immigrants in the United States since 1995. He has a BA in Business from Metro State University and a Public Leadership Credential from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He was the original host of Talking Drum, the signature current affairs show on the African Broadcasting Network (ABN-America), which was available nationwide in the United States via the Dish Network satellite service. On the show, he interviewed Nobel laureates such as 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai, the first woman from Africa to win the peace prize and heads of states. Tom has served and chaired various boards including Global Minnesota (formerly Minnesota International Center), the sixth largest World Affairs Council in the United States. He has previously served as the first Black President of the Board of Directors at Books for Africa. He also serves on the boards of New Vision Foundation and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium. He has previously served two terms on the board of the United Nations Association. An avid runner, he retired from running full marathons after turning 50 and now only focuses on training for half marathons.

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