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After months of surprise endorsements, a mountain of mailers and relentless outside fundraising, the 5th Congressional District will vote in the August 11 primaries for its next DFL candidate. For some weary (or still eager) voters in Minneapolis and Hennepin County, that opportunity can’t come too soon. 

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Supporters of Representative Ilhan Omar, the first-term incumbent, have highlighted the rhetoric of Antone Melton-Meaux’s out-of-district donors and his campaign mailers. These tout the lawyer and volunteer minister’s “American Story”—seemingly cast in contrast to Representative Ilhan’s immigrant background. 

In their endorsements and public statements, supporters of the freshman congresswoman’s challenger, Antone Melton-Meaux, have raised concerns about Ilhan’s alleged inattention to her constituents and her statements about Israel and human rights.

Melton-Meaux’s campaign brought in $3.2 million in the second quarter of 2020, while Ilhan raised $471,000 in the same period. Ilhan’s campaign has raised a total of $3.8 million, while Melton-Meaux has raised a comparable $3.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It’s debatable whether the average voter in Hennepin County was clamoring for this primary, but they got it anyway. So we asked the people who are driving this unusual race—such as Attorney General Keith Ellison and civil rights leader Nekima Levy Armstrong—to talk about their preferred candidate, the issues they care about and the tenor of the race. 

How did a safe seat in one of the most progressive districts in the country turn into such a complicated race?

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison

“Ilhan is doing all she can to advance the best interests of the people who live in our district.” More

Nekima Levy Armstrong

“I am voting for Antone Melton-Meaux to be our representative for the 5th Congressional District, because I think that he is an outstanding candidate.” More

Richfield Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez

“People who may not traditionally see themselves as leaders look to her for inspiration and say, If Ilhan can do it, I can do it.” More

Leila Shukri Adan

“Some of the things that Antone described to me in terms of uniting all the Democrats, all the community together, really matter to me.” More

Sagal Ali

“People are really trying to get Ilhan out of the race and they are using money as kind of a lever to do that. I believe in the power of the people.” More

Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris

“When it comes to human rights, civil rights and race equity, he is going to be able to work with a diversity of constituencies that don’t always agree on issues.” More

Iman Hassan

“Now more than ever we need someone that speaks truth to power… Ilhan is that candidate.” More

Imam Matthew Ramadan

“When Antone came along, he looked like the most viable person. And when I reached out to him, and started talking to him, and he listened, I said, I can work with you.” More


Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has endorsed Representative Ilhan Omar’s current campaign, and campaigned for her in 2018. Ellison held the same seat from 2007–2019.

Whom are you voting for and why?

If you look at the issues that are confronting Minnesotans and Americans, Ilhan is doing all she can to advance the best interests of the people who live in our district. Standing up for housing, standing up for healthcare, standing up for environmental justice—she’s been doing it ever since I knew her. Her track record shows me that she’s really serious.

Can you talk about an issue where the candidate you support has taken a particular stance you agree with (e.g. healthcare, education, the environment, jobs, etc.)?

She is at the very forefront of making sure we house people. Housing improves people’s health outcomes. Children who are stably housed have a better academic outcome. Actually, housing is medicine, and we know the housing policy in the United States is upside down. 

If you look at the housing and tax breaks for housing, they almost always flow disproportionately to wealthier people. If you just look at the mortgage-interest industry, that goes to people who own homes and make enough money to justify itemization. If you look at the HUD budget, even our programs to house the poor, often the money goes to much wealthier people. 

So we need housing investment, we need public housing, and her Homes for All bill—I agree with her 100 percent.

What are you looking for your representative to do for you and the district? 

I hope she will help people. I hope she will pass legislation to give people greater housing opportunities. I hope she will help pass legislation to make sure everybody can go to the doctor. I hope she will pass legislation that will address climate chaos and promote renewable energy. I hope she will be our excellent representative of our district.

Have you seen race, religion, gender or identity playing into this primary? How so?

Clearly she has been the target of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and religious bigotry. I think she has been a target of that, no question. I also think some of her opponents have opportunistically used these points, via these unfair attacks on her, to their advantage.

With all the mailers and all the money being spent on endorsements and advertisements, why do you think this DFL primary has turned into such an expensive race? How does the district benefit?

There’s nobody living who knows more about representing the 5th Congressional District than me. And I can tell you that, you cannot get millions of dollars for a campaign for somebody who has no record of public service, unless the people putting this money in can get something valuable out of it. 

From what I can see, there are some folks who don’t want the 5th Congressional District representative to speak up on behalf of healthcare for all, housing for all, environmental protection for all. Clearly, the people they’re touting are going to be easy on the corporate entities who stand to gain if we do not have reform in the areas of housing, healthcare and the environment. 

It’s clear as crystal to me that they believe that they spend a lot of money if they get a compliant accommodation. Simple as that.


Nekima Levy Armstrong is the former president of the NAACP chapter in Minneapolis

Whom are you voting for and why?

I am voting for Antone Melton-Meaux to be our representative for the 5th Congressional District, because I think that he is an outstanding candidate. He is well-qualified for the position and I believe that he will focus on the needs and interests of the residents of the 5th Congressional District.

Can you talk about an issue where the candidate you support has taken a particular stance you agree with? (e.g. healthcare, education, the environment, jobs, etc.)

I have personally marched with Antone at Black Lives Matter marches. And his story of being a Black man who has had negative encounters with the police—it really resonates with me as an activist, as a community member, as the wife of a Black man, and as the mother to Black sons. I believe police reform will be a strong hallmark of his time in Washington.

What are you looking for your representative to do for you and the district?

One of the things that is very important to me is having a representative who is accessible to the community, who is attentive to the needs of the community and will form deep roots and deep relationships with the community. 

I have not seen that happen with the incumbent, unfortunately. And it definitely makes our community feel neglected in many respects. I live, and I have a business in north Minneapolis. And we face some of the worst racial disparities in the country across every key indicator of quality of life. 

We need a representative who is paying attention to those issues, who will draft bills and advocate for legislation that begins to address those issues, and who will be a champion for the issues that matter most to our community.

Have you seen race, religion, gender or identity playing into this primary? How so?

Because of identity, to some degree, people were uncomfortable raising concerns about the incumbent and some of the distractions that had been happening, and some of the issues that many of us identify with. 

For me personally, as a Black woman, I of course have to factor in the fact that as Black people—whether someone is an African immigrant or a native-born American—we are underrepresented in politics in Minnesota, as well as in Congress, which poses its own set of problems. And I think that because we are underrepresented, and because our needs are so great,  we have to demand excellent leadership from the people who seek to represent us.

With all the mailers and all the money being spent on endorsements and advertisements, why do you think this DFL primary has turned into such an expensive race? How does the district benefit?

Before, when the incumbent was raising millions of dollars, most of which was pouring in from out of state, no one batted an eyelash. It wasn’t until a challenger showed up with very strong fundraising capabilities that people began to focus on money. And as someone who ran for office, I understand that it takes money to run a strong race and it takes money to win. 

And we also have to understand that when you are a newcomer into politics, people aren’t necessarily as willing to invest in your candidacy. And you have to be open to folks who are willing to support you as long as you maintain your integrity, the values that are important to you, the vision for why you’re running for office, and your commitment to your constituents.


Richfield Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez is the first Latina mayor in Minnesota history.

Whom are you voting for and why?

I am voting for, and support and endorse, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. She has been an organizer her whole entire life, and she’s committed to fighting for people without a seat at the table and expanding the decision making table for everybody. She’s had a record of really fighting for this and getting things done.

She’s fierce, she’s tireless and she’s an advocate for all Minnesotans. And she doesn’t waver on her principles; she doesn’t waver on her vision.

Can you talk about an issue where the candidate you support has taken a particular stance you agree with (e.g. healthcare, education, the environment, jobs, etc.)?

She’s done an exceptional job checking in with us on COVID-19–related issues and fighting for healthy food access and feeding our children. She was successful in tackling reform. Making sure that people had access to healthy foods during COVID-19 and that there was a response to our communities that we needed.

Whether it’s ensuring that undocumented community members are included in funding and support, whether it’s around evictions and support of renters in COVID-19, she’s been a strong advocate for people who have, unfortunately, been falling through the cracks in our COVID-19 response, nationally.

What are you looking for your representative to do for you and the district?

I hope that she’ll continue to listen to and connect with those community members in our districts that are most disenfranchised. That the stories that she uses to fight for advocacy and legislative change at the federal level come from our districts, come from community members, come from mothers.

People who may not traditionally see themselves as leaders look to her for inspiration and say, If Ilhan can do it, I can do it.

Ilhan is a mom. Ilhan is a young woman of color. Ilhan is a refugee. Ilhan is an immigrant. And she is a representation of our district and of the leadership we need.

Have you seen race, religion, gender or identity playing into this primary? How so?

As women of color, we are held to so many contradictory, unfair, unrealistic standards. Expectations that are put upon us, that are absolutely not put upon so many of our counterparts who are not young women of color. It’s used against us.

We aren’t super human; we’re human. And we need support from our constituencies. We need support to lead. And the fact is every single system is designed to keep us disenfranchised in our communities. And so she faces barriers, just by being in the system.

With all the mailers and all the money being spent on endorsements and advertisements, why do you think this DFL primary has turned into such an expensive race? How does the district benefit?

I honestly don’t know why it has become such an expensive race. I think probably it has to do with a lot of the things that I was speaking to previously, where the political system, the political machine and institutions are designed to keep us out. To keep us disenfranchised and put barriers in front of us. I assume that it’s just a manifestation of that.

I don’t know what the benefit is for our constituents. And I will say that’s the case for a lot of electoral politics.


Leila Shukri Adan is a former candidate for the 5th Congressional District seat. She is also the co-founder of Axis Medical Care, and a mother of two.

Whom are you voting for and why?

I’m voting for Antone. I’m not only voting for Antone, I’m also working for his campaign to help him get elected, because I truly believe that he’s the best candidate for this seat. And I have been very impressed by how he’s carried his candidacy, how he’s managed his campaign. We’ve developed a deep friendship while this entire thing has been going on.

Can you talk about an issue where the candidate you support has taken a particular stance you agree with? (e.g. healthcare, education, the environment, jobs, etc.)?

I felt that he had a better platform and understanding of the opioid crisis with the youth. He has a better plan for primary care for all, universal medical coverage, and Medicare. And he also has a plan to unite the community, something that we had when Ilhan was elected and was the face of the community.

With great admiration for her, I think that she has lost her way and has fractured the community. Some of the things that Antone described to me in terms of uniting all the Democrats, all the community together, really matter to me. Because we’ve had a helping hand when we first came here and settled. And we can’t bite the hand that fed us.

What are you looking for your representative to do for you and the district? 

The office right now is lacking constituent services. People are complaining out there that they feel unheard. They feel that the office is not responsive, that the staff don’t understand the issues and that there isn’t an active commitment to serve the community. Those jobs are very mundane and unexciting, but they’re things that people committed to in the office.

Have you seen race, religion, gender or identity playing into this primary? How so?

I find it strange that Antone has received accusations of being a male who’s trying to be oppressive to a woman. And that, in some way, his candidacy itself is an affront to the fact that Ilhan is there. 

My take on this seat itself is that it belongs to the people, the seat belongs to the constituents. The representative is there as a public servant to serve the constituents. It’s not their personal belonging. And the constituents choose who to put in that. 

With all the mailers and all the money being spent on endorsements and advertisements, why do you think this DFL primary has turned into such an expensive race? How does the district benefit?

To me, the uproar is about taking the seat for granted and not expecting anyone else to raise that much money. The second thing is that, to speak bluntly, Ilhan has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. And they are not just people from all over the country. They are constituents here who voted for her because they saw her as a unique candidate—people who participated actively and voted for her. 

By the way, Antone voted for her in the last election, just so that we can clear that up. And for him to be so disappointed and demoralized by her leadership that he decided to run is a testament to the history that she has created in the last two years. So I’m not surprised by the uproar.


Sagal Ali, 26, is the program coordinator at Ayada Leads, a leadership organization that first recruited Representative Ilhan Omar to run for office. She grew up in south Minneapolis and now lives in Brooklyn Park.

Whom are you voting for and why?

Without a doubt, Ilhan Omar. Ilhan just represents democracy in its purest forms, by the way she engages with her constituents, the way that she shows up in Congress, the way she constantly elevates the voices of those that have been historically silenced. Both at an institutional level and at a community level.

I think just everything that Ilhan stands for really speaks to my values. She’s showed up. It’s not just like she talks the talk; she does the walking.

Can you talk about an issue where the candidate you support has taken a particular stance you agree with? (e.g. healthcare, education, the environment, jobs, etc.)?

I graduated from college, and I was a first-generation college student. So I wasn’t actually prepared for the financial aspect of college and going to get an education.

Something that Ilhan speaks about so often is eliminating all student debt and forgiving student debt and really making it possible for people to get an education without a cost. I strongly agree with that.

What are you looking for your representative to do for you and the district?

Whether that’s healthcare, whether that’s education, I’m starting to see these issues that are being pegged as just political actually manifest in communities. And I think a lot of people aren’t able to connect what’s happening in the halls of Congress to what’s happening.

Ilhan, time and time again, talks about it, shows up. She is constantly putting herself in harm’s way, in some in some fashion, to do the right thing, to speak up on the right thing.

I’m voting for her because she’s not just all talk, she’s truly a person of action.

Have you seen race, religion, gender or identity playing into this primary? How so?

I’m an optimistic person. I think that people are starting to see some of the civil unrest that has happened following George Floyd’s death and a lot of what’s happening with COVID-19. It’s laying bare some of the racial disparities that have been evident.

Having a pandemic just unveils the atrocities our society has to actually face and say, this is something we have to deal with.

With all the mailers and all the money being spent on endorsements and advertisements, why do you think this DFL primary has turned into such an expensive race? How does the district benefit?

People are really trying to get Ilhan out of the race and they are using money as kind of a lever to do that. I believe in the power of the people. I’m hopeful that regardless of how this plays into the race, Ilhan is going to rise victorious just because of how committed people are to her mission, and how she sees their role in building a better society.


Shep Harris is mayor of Golden Valley.

Whom are you voting for and why?

I’m voting for Antone Melton-Meaux in the primary coming up August 11, because I think that he is a progressive candidate who embodies our values in the DFL party. He’s also going to help build consensus with our diverse party values. He brings people together. He has professionally and personally worked to try to help people resolve their differences. Whether it’s health issues, immigration issues, human rights issues, other social- and racial-equity issues, he’s been there with the community.

Can you talk about an issue where the candidate you support has taken a particular stance you agree with? (e.g. healthcare, education, the environment, jobs, etc.)

When it comes to human rights, civil rights and race equity, he is going to be able to work with a diversity of constituencies that don’t always agree on issues. He can listen and pull together the best kind of position that is going to produce results for our community.

The resolution that comes up in Congress to condemn Armenian genocide in Turkey—if you remember the atrocities against the Armenian people? He’s going to vote for it. Because this community demands that we stand up for everybody’s human rights. When there’s sanctions against Turkey for the treatment of how they have treated the Kurdish people? He’s not going to vote against those sanctions. He’s going to vote for those sanctions.

What are you looking for your representative to do for you and the district?

We need them to be peacekeepers. We need that person to be a healer. We need that person to be a listener and understand that there is a lot of pain that has been caused in this district by comments and by lack of actions.

The current member of Congress has said some things, and continues to show—even in the latest campaign mail pieces that have gone out—a lack of sensitivity. At the least, a lack of a sensitivity, at the worst, anti-Semitism, for one of the historically targeted communities in our district.

So my hope is that the next member of Congress will help us with that healing. Because if they don’t, we’re in a lot of trouble. We’re going to be in a lot of pain for a long time.

Have you seen race, religion, gender or identity playing into this primary? How so?

Unfortunately, yeah, it plays a role here in our communities. Because our area is a community of immigrants, thank goodness, and we should be proud of that. And unfortunately, we have a president who’s been elected by a large minority in this country that don’t really understand or have forgotten what it’s like to come to this country, with many challenges in front of them.

I wish that’s all I could say and stop. But the fact is, there have been some things that have been done by the current member of Congress that have insulted members of the Somali community, and insulted members of the Jewish community, that have insulted members of the Armenian community.

There are a lot of people who are upset about the divisions that have been created over the past two years in our district. Whereas we were hoping to go into 2020 as a unified party and focus all of our positive energy on electing a president and electing the legislature at the state capitol that would be more willing to advance racial equity and social justice. Instead, we are divided.

With all the mailers and all the money being spent on endorsements and advertisements, why do you think this DFL primary has turned into such an expensive race? How does the district benefit?

It’s not going to benefit this district. The only way it benefits this district is if Antone Melton-Meaux wins. Our current member of Congress has alienated herself with the vast majority of her colleagues in Washington, D.C., and fellow Democrats across the country.

Here in Minnesota we pride ourselves on being a family. We pride ourselves on being better than the rest of the country when it comes to solving problems. And we’ve got exactly the opposite going on right now here in the 5th Congressional District. And that’s obviously why it has attracted so much money.


Iman Hassan is a pro-bono civil rights lawyer and a volunteer for Ilhan Omar’s campaign.

Whom are you voting for and why?

I’m voting for Ilhan, like I did last time. I’m voting for her because I’ve lived in the 5th Congressional District my whole life, and have always been a progressive. But now—especially because of COVID-19, and the financial crisis and everything that’s happening to our country—I think we need someone who is aggressively pushing for progressive agendas such as Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, abolishing ICE and opposing U.S. imperialism.

Now more than ever we need someone that speaks truth to power and questions the power structures that have allowed continued oppression of people of color and Black people for so long. Ilhan is that candidate.

Can you talk about an issue where the candidate you support has taken a particular stance you agree with? (e.g. healthcare, education, the environment, jobs, etc.)?

Definitely Medicare for All. Some of the other candidates are running on platforms of primary care for all, which maybe in the ’90s would have been something that we would have all jumped on to, and been very excited about. But now, to be running on a primary-care-for-all platform is just not enough.

I’ve seen, myself, what the lack of insurance or being underinsured can do to many people that live in the 5th District. Even my sister: If she wouldn’t have health insurance, it would have bankrupted her when she was diagnosed with cancer, for example. When you think about it, primary care for all wouldn’t cover any of the expenses that get incurred with every single specialist that she had to see.

With the coronavirus, you think about all the things that will happen to our bodies potentially, all the Minnesota lives that are impacted. Will it be covered by primary care? And the reality is, it will not: It will be specialists that will be taken care of vulnerable people that have been impacted by COVID-19.

What are you looking for your representative to do for you and the district?

We need to have someone that is aggressively standing up for the 5th District and for Minnesota, and for all Americans, to be fighting the big fight. We don’t need someone who is merely a mediator coming somewhere in the middle.

If the other side is putting children into cages, there is no middle ground.

And the same thing happens with healthcare. The same thing happens with unemployment. We need to take an aggressive, progressive stance and advocate for the most vulnerable people. That’s what I need from my congresswoman or congressperson as a constituent.

Have you seen race, religion, gender or identity playing into this primary? How so?

We’ve all been getting nonstop flyers from Antone Melton-Meaux. We get two a day, even. And one of the first things I noticed was words like, she’s dramatic, she starts drama.

The question of even using very gendered language—such as drama queen, or she is a celebrity—is about how we think of women when they stand up, when they’re loud.

What does it say to me when you question whose story is the true “American story”? We see those cues, and we understand them. And I think most people who have lived here have been questioned because of their faith, or because of their skin color or because of their national origin.

We immediately understand how the language is supposed to resonate with white voters.

With all the mailers and all the money being spent on endorsements and advertisements, why do you think this DFL primary has turned into such an expensive race? How does the district benefit?

What’s really disturbing is the sources of that money. As a constituent, I do truly worry about how much money has come into our district from conservative sources, from PACs. All these people have interests that do not directly align with the needs of constituents in the 5th district, and that is the most important point that we need to be concerned about.

We have always in this district taken such pride in grassroots organizing. And now, there is a tendency to think that the 5th district could be moved into this space where, as long as you just funnel in as many millions as possible, you can redirect what was traditionally a grassroots district.


Imam Matthew Ramadan is the founder of Masjid Al-Nur in Minneapolis. He was also a former Metropolitan Council member.

Whom are you voting for and why?

I will be voting for Antone, mainly because he listens. We’ve had an opportunity to talk to both of the candidates from two years ago.

I first met Ilhan Omar at a rally against police brutality in the 4th Precinct and she had just won the primary. And I introduced myself to her and she said “Oh, you’re Imam Matthew Ramadan, the ones who helped Keith Ellison get into office the first time.” And I said, “Yes, I am. I’d like to help you as well. I’m not looking for anything out of this, but just to give you some advice that will help you not be a one-term congressperson.”

And she said “I’ll be in touch with you.” Never heard from her.

When Antone came along, he looked like the most viable person. And when I reached out to him, and started talking to him, and he listened, I said, I can work with you.

Can you talk about an issue where the candidate you support has taken a particular stance you agree with (e.g. healthcare, education, the environment, jobs, etc.)?

He’s championed working across party lines, working with the LGBTQ community, working with the Black community on issues of police brutality in a way that made more sense. It’s fun and easy to say things like defund the police. But it is very impractical.

And so to have somebody say, Well, here’s a practical way to do it: That really resonated with me.

What are you looking for your representative to do for you and the district?

The first thing is to listen to all of the constituents in the 5th Congressional District. And to value that input more so than the input of the national media and the national press. I think that that’s critical.

One of the things I shared with Keith, when he was first coming to office and advising him as the first Muslim-American congressman in history, is that you are not going to just be a Muslim-American in Congress. First and foremost you’re the 5th Congressional District representative. And that’s what your constituency is; that’s who you have to listen to.

So you may find issues that will favor Muslims, but not favor the people in your district. You’ve got to vote for what’s important for your district.

Have you seen race, religion, gender or identity playing into this primary? How so?

History has already been made. It was made with Keith Ellison as the first Muslim, and Ilhan as the first Muslim woman representing the state of Minnesota. But it’s not a Muslim seat.

I do believe and I do hope to see it held by a person of color for the long term. But I’m willing to concede that right now having a woman, a Muslim, an immigrant, did not serve us as well as it could have.

With all the mailers and all the money being spent on endorsements and advertisements, why do you think this DFL primary has turned into such an expensive race? How does the district benefit?

One of the things a couple of years ago that a lot of people don’t know is that I advised Keith back in 2006 to focus on getting the majority of his resources from the 5th Congressional District.

A lot of times he actually returned money from different organizations that were Muslim but not local. And I see neither one of the candidates is doing that. They’re taking money from all over the country. I don’t have a solution.

Until that’s changed nationally, I don’t think there’s much we can do to check the flow of resources coming in from everywhere.


Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.