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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Meet the Minnesota 5th District congressional candidates

Candidates for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District share about themselves and their campaigns.
Three+of+the+candidates+for+Minnesota%E2%80%99s+5th+Congressional+District+answer+the+MN+Daily%E2%80%99s+questions+about+their+campaigns.
Image by Tim Peterson, Sarah Gad and Don Samuel (courtesy from campaigns)
Three of the candidates for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District answer the MN Daily’s questions about their campaigns.

Challengers for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL) explain their campaigns for this election year. 

Candidates answered questions about law enforcement, affordable housing and how they plan to combat drug addiction. Candidates also discussed how they will prioritize students’ concerns as they pave their way to D.C. 

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor party will hold a caucus on Feb. 27 where constituents can meet and hear about candidates’ plans and goals for Congress. The candidates will run for the party endorsement in the primaries on Aug. 13, 2024, before the general election on Nov. 5, 2024. 

Omar did not respond to the Minnesota Daily’s requests for an interview. 

Sarah Gad

Before Sarah Gad was a defense attorney and graduate from the University of Chicago, she was addicted to drugs due to opioids prescribed to her after a car accident. Now she leads a Minneapolis-based law firm, Gad & Gad Law Offices, and plans to use her knowledge from medical school, law school and her life as a recovering addict to help advocate for others. 

Tim Peterson

Tim Peterson grew up near the Franklin Avenue Bridge in south Minneapolis and served 15 years in the United States Air Force and the Minnesota Army National Guard. He plans to bring his lived experience growing up in the 3rd Precinct to Congress and advocate for police reform. 

Don Samuels 

Born and raised in Jamaica, Don Samuels has lived in the Selby-Dale neighborhood in St. Paul and in North Minneapolis with his wife, Sondra Hollinger. There, their family witnessed gun violence which motivated Samuels to organize vigils, serve on the city council and later join the Minneapolis Public School Board. 

The Minnesota Daily: Why are you running? 

Sarah Gad: “I wanted to run for Congress because as an attorney, I don’t think many people realize just how constrained you are to just the laws. I’ve been on the receiving end of our criminal justice system and sort of the injustices and the criminalization of addiction. I remember when I was going through it, I was just like, ‘This is insane. Like, how can we call ourselves the land of the free when we throw people in cages for … what are, like, diseases or things beyond their control?’ I think that somebody just having the medical knowledge that I have and just, like, the personal experience on the other side of the law, I really feel like a lot of change can be made. I want to make a difference. I love Minnesota, I love my community and they’re just really a void right now for better advocacy. I’m just hoping to provide that.”

Tim Peterson: “I grew up in the 3rd Precinct watching my friends be brutalized more times than I’d like to remember. I was small and weak but I’m big and strong now. I got a hell of a voice to bring into D.C. so we can get some justice, but most importantly lead by example for the state, for the country, the police reform, by not only getting large federal bonuses for police officers that share core values and lived experience in our communities, not just here, but across the country. But also to hold the police accountable and have a nationwide platform where folks can report police brutality claims and get a set of subjects and get them resolved in 90 days.”

Don Samuels: “These are very divisive times. We have great needs and challenges at the same time. So what the divisiveness does is nothing gets done. Well, not enough gets done and so I believe we have a style of leadership now in the 5th District that tends to be divisive, to be idealistic and uncompromising and that is perpetuating that lack of progress. I’m going into Congress not to make a point, not to be idealistic, but to negotiate, to have strong relationships, to be outcomes-oriented and not to make a point but to make a difference.”

Daily: What plans do you have to help the University of Minnesota students’ concerns? 

Gad: “I think that just expanding access to mental health services is very important. There’s a very, very high rate of depression and anxiety among University of Minnesota students, even relative to the rest of the country. I’m not sure if that’s because of the weather or seasonal affect disorder or what, but mental health really has to be addressed on campus. It’s something that I know that a lot of students struggle with to be kind of open and forthcoming with it. So just making sure that the resources are accessible and within arm’s reach when they need it. It’s one thing to make an appointment in the future to see a mental health provider but to actually treat somebody who’s having a mental health crisis is so important.”

Peterson: “A big part of why I’m running for Congress is the youth and giving them opportunities. I would say my plan is to have college free for two years for most folks. I’d have to look up the specifics but, say, $80,000 adjusted income for your family or less, you get free college. And it would be trade school, college and any other thing that would produce a job where if the training or education has an 80 percent or higher placement, you’d be able to get this for free.”

Samuels: “I had the last of my kids just graduated from Ohio State this past year and is now at the London School of Economics and I have a young man that I mentored through high school that is now at the University of Minnesota. So I’m still in the education business in terms of kids. I know that your food programs were shut down because you didn’t have enough labor for that. I know that young people are concerned about student loans and the cost of education which continues to grow. I’m gonna work on those issues in Congress to make sure that we have a forgiveness program that is income-based and that can be alleviated through certain kinds of service jobs and to make sure that universities are made whole when they provide those kinds of scholarships and so on for people who need it most.” 

Daily: How will you support LGBTQ+ students and their concerns?

Gad: “I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers and know what’s best for everybody, but I’m always willing to listen and make sure that I’m advocating for the constituency and the most productive way possible. I don’t really have any policy initiatives specifically right now to specifically LGBTQ students. I’m always open and willing to hear anybody who needs help and provide the best advocacy that I can.”

Peterson: “I’m a big believer in personal freedom. People can do what they want and love who they want. And any reasonable group of people that want to get together and make sure that those folks are protected, I’m happy to listen and learn. I’m a member of the Minnesota Pride Rotary Club and we often have LGBTQ and trans speakers come in and it’s a very nuanced thing.”

Samuels: “Absolutely, enthusiastically and proactively because one of my kids is non-binary, they kind of came to a full understanding of themselves in college. We had to help to guide them through and ourselves through that process of acceptance and celebration. I know the bathroom issues, we talk about that and the fears, the discomforts and all of that. I feel so grateful that we had that experience so I can have a firsthand approach to the issue of inclusion when I get into Congress.”

Daily: How do you plan to address concerns with law enforcement and lack of accountability? 

Gad: “I have a very hard time believing that everybody who sits in Congress is not fully aware of the racial underpinnings of the war on drugs. We talked about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Black Lives Matter and all the protests and all. They’re fully aware of the racial underpinnings. They haven’t done anything to go back and try to dismantle a set of laws that was literally designed to criminalize people for being Black. It just shocks me to my core. When I hear people in Congress talking about the criminal justice system and criminal justice reform, you cannot separate criminal justice reform from drug policy reform. That’s a huge part of my candidacy. It’s advocating for an exit strategy to the war on drugs because the war on drugs is literally the biggest failure. Like the biggest policy failure of all time and the effects are so devastating. It’s one of the primary reasons why I decided to run and why I really decided to stay.”

Peterson: “The Minneapolis community has had a memorandum of understanding with the Minneapolis police force for the multiple versions of it … I want to bring that to a federal level and that’s making sure that we have a 90-day investigation. Having folks who are not working for the police force to take these claims and bring them on. But also a federal website where you can track these and see where the status is and see where our community’s progress is on these. I think that’s a really important conversation. They can bring their challenges to a place that isn’t the police and get some accountability. I think that’s important to me, to build a relationship with the police.”

Samuels: “I’m going to Washington to make sure that I contribute to legislation that governs police behavior and also to make sure that we have enough police officers. I just heard from the chief this morning at a meeting that the police department is down 40 percent at a time when crime is highest of years. That combination is deadly. I’m going to Washington to make sure that the resources to augment the higher group police officers and legislation to guide their behavior.”

Daily: How will you combat widespread drug misuse, especially fentanyl-related misuse? 

Gad: “I really think that it’s not only my personal experience having lived through addiction, but also having three years of medical education. Addiction, it’s a disease. It is chronic. First, it’s genetic, it is chronic, it is progressive and it is fatal if it is left untreated. We really have to just cut back on the criminalization of addiction because what ends up happening is if you throw somebody in a cage for having an addiction, their disease doesn’t go away. I am really going to be pushing for an exit strategy to the war on drugs because that is truly the only way we’re really going to get a handle on this crisis.”

Peterson: “There’s a lot of people that have a clean criminal record and they’ll go get their concealed carry permit, which allows them to purchase firearms. So they’re going and purchasing these firearms and selling them to drug dealers to fuel their habits. This is like a uniquely specific laser-focused thing to help and it’s not just here, it’s all over the country. I’ve adopted my niece and nephew because my father and sister had issues with drugs and I’ve seen where all that goes. I have a great obligation to help the tired, the poor, the weak and the distressed folks who have been dealing with a drug addiction.” 

Samuels: “We must begin to treat drug addiction the same way that we treat alcohol addiction in the United States. This means treating drug addiction as an illness that requires medical treatment [as] opposed to incarceration and law enforcement solutions, including building facilities where individuals can get the care they need. Given the universal nature of drug addiction, I also believe education should be required in schools as a preventive measure. I also believe temporary treatment like Narcan should be universally available in an effort to prevent so many needless deaths in Minnesota and around the country. Finally, I believe more efforts should be made to criminalize the manufacturing and original sourcing of illegal drugs, while nonviolent offenders in the drug trade should have their criminal sentences revisited. Local and federal leaders must also partner with international governments to curtail the import of illegal drugs if we are serious about making a dent in the use of fentanyl in Minnesota and throughout the United States,” said in an email statement to the Daily. 

Daily: What will you do to create more opportunities for affordable housing? 

Gad: “I’ll be advocating for federal initiatives to reduce rent and mortgage burdens, like expanding housing choice or the section aid voucher program. This program is something that aids millions of people, millions of struggling citizens, including single mothers and students. I’m definitely going to be championing policies that are going to extend access to affordable housing, but also lifting people out of poverty and helping students and new graduates be able to access not just affordable housing, but be able to purchase homes and actually reap the benefits of their very costly education.”

Peterson: “Nobody wants to see folks that are struggling, particularly single moms and people with disabilities, all these things, who lose their housing. It’s like a cascade level of terrible things for our community. My stuff would be more to prevent people from losing housing if they are on fixed incomes or low incomes. It would give people a buffer of two, three years so they don’t lose their housing. If this bad stuff happens, people get sick, people get hurt, people get injured, you shouldn’t be homeless.”

Samuels: “That is a problem especially after the 2008 housing crisis. A lot of people were forced out of their homes by the balloon payments of scam loans. Then in this crisis, the inflation and so on, people are now paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing routinely. Then we have tent cities which the federal government deliberately got out of affordable housing and the shelter business in an attempt to put it on communities. It’s not working, communities are now too diverse. Everybody’s a stranger, even your next-door neighbor. We need the federal government to come in again and fund the shelter programs and also support more building of more affordable housing so that nobody’s paying more than 30 percent of their income.”

This interview has been edited for clarity, grammar and length.

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  • Alex Schmidt
    Feb 14, 2024 at 10:02 pm

    Gad should drop out. She has a compelling story but no constituency and, in my humble opinion, she doesn’t have a campaign; she has a website and an Act Blue account to collect what will inevitably amount to “donations.” Reporters will continue to include her on these types of Q&A round tables, but the truth is that if you look up her recent FEC filings, she’s raised about 30k to Don Samuel’s 350K. And, even more telling, only 30 or so of those individual contributions were from Minnesota. Yup. There are cats on TikTok with a larger audience. She’s failed to leverage all of the national media attention she received at the beginning of her campaign and, from reading her responses to Alexandra DeYoe’s questions, hasn’t spent much time thinking about concrete solutions to the problems faced by those in the 5th. Even she admits that she doesn’t “really have any policy initiatives specifically right now” to help LGBTQ students. Really? In a time when LGBTQ rights are under attack everywhere, you haven’t given it much thought? Sigh. In response to the affordable housing question Gad refers to “Section Aid”. I’m guessing she means “Section 8”. It’s important to know the specifics of the programs that affect voters.

  • Alex Schmidt
    Feb 14, 2024 at 9:58 pm

    Gad should drop out. She has a compelling story but no constituency and, in my humble opinion, she doesn’t have a campaign; she has a website and an Act Blue account to collect what will inevitably amount to “donations.” Reporters will continue to include her on these types of Q&A round tables, but the truth is that if you look up her recent FEC filings, she’s raised about 30k to Don Samuel’s 350K. And, even more telling, only 30 or so of those individual contributions were from Minnesota. Yup. There are cats on TikTok with a larger audience. She’s failed to leverage all of the national media attention she received at the beginning of her campaign and, from reading her responses to Alexandra DeYoe’s questions, hasn’t spent much time thinking about concrete solutions to the problems faced by those in the 5th. Even she admits that she doesn’t “really have any policy initiatives specifically right now” to help LGBTQ students. Really? In a time when LGBTQ rights are under attack everywhere, you haven’t given it much thought? Sigh. In response to the affordable housing question Gad refers to “Section Aid”. I’m guessing she means “Section 8”. It’s important to know the specifics of the programs that affect voters.

  • Ken DeYoe
    Feb 14, 2024 at 1:55 pm

    I believe Gad’s responses show her approach and openness and she admits there’s a learning curve.

    That said, Samuels has my vote!!! Go Don!!!