Rep. Ilhan Omar uses legislative offseason to influence city elections, connect with constituents

State Rep. Ilhan Omar is staying busy in the legislative offseason by advocating for local and national issues.

Omar, whose district covers the University of Minnesota and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, has attempted to shape city politics through vocal support — and opposition — of mayoral and city council candidates ahead of the Nov. 7 election. She’s also spent her time off from the Minnesota Legislature connecting with constituents and advocating for refugees in Washington D.C.

Omar waded into the 2017 Minneapolis municipal elections in March by endorsing Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, a candidate in the Minneapolis mayoral race.

“I am honored to receive her endorsement,” Dehn said. “She communicates to people in her district, people in her community about these larger issues relevant to what’s going on in the state of Minnesota as well as in the city of Minneapolis.”

Omar said she endorsed Dehn because she felt he was best equipped to tackle systemic issues plaguing the city.

“He is the only candidate that sees the intersectionality of these issues,” she said.

Omar has been a harsh critic of one of Dehn’s opponents for mayor, Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey, tweeting opposition to his platform.

Omar tweeted Sept. 30 that Frey’s plan to reduce downtown crime is full of “coded language,” and his “tough-on-crime approach is synonymous with further criminalization of black and brown youth.”

Frey said his plan has been misinterpreted.

“I was calling for a narrowing of the [police] officers’ beats,” Frey said. “You can’t enhance police-community relations unless the officers have time to engage the community to begin with.”

Though Frey said he has high respect for Omar, he thinks her criticism was unfair and encouraged everyone to read the plan themselves.

Omar has also weighed in on the Ward 6 city council race which covers Cedar-Riverside, the neighborhood she lives in.

She endorsed Mohamud Noor over incumbent council member Abdi Warsame. Noor was an opponent of Omar’s in the 2016 DFL primary election for House District 60B. After the primary, Noor joined Omar’s 2016 campaign.

“Last year at this time, I was recruiting votes for Ilhan Omar,” Noor said.

Building a relationship with Omar will enhance their service to constituents, he said.

“Local government is where things move. The rubber meets the road at the city council level,” Noor said.

Omar has also used her legislative downtime as a chance to connect with constituents and advocate for refugees.

She’s hosted monthly “Coffee and Kulan” events, where she invites the public to have sit-down discussions with legislators and experts on various topics — like climate change and public housing.

“I believe that in our district, in our city and in our state, the power and the solutions rest with the people,” Omar said. “It’s important for us to create spaces where we co-govern, and we are constantly hearing from people, and constantly engaging people in finding solutions.”

She traveled to Washington D.C. in July to meet with members of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the National Security Council and the Domestic Policy Council concerning President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries including Somalia, her country of birth.

She used this time with security leaders to advocate for higher refugee admissions.

“We have 20 million refugees around the world that are waiting for resettlement, waiting for the opportunity to start a new life,” Omar said. “I think that we should be a little bit more charitable and live up to our values.”

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