MINNESOTA – American Muslim Ilhan Omar made history on Tuesday, August 9, by becoming the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States after winning the Democratic primary election in Minnesota House District 60B.
“Tonight we made history,” Omar told the crowd, Star Tribune reported on Wednesday, August 10.
“Tonight marks the beginning of the future of our district, a new era of representation. Tonight is about the power of you.”
The victory followed a fierce election battle with Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a historic figure in her own right who is tied to the longest-serving legislator in state history.
Winning a DFL primary for a state House seat based in Minneapolis, the 33-year-old Omar was born in Somalia before she fled to the US to escape civil war.
She stayed for four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before ultimately moving to the Somali-American neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, where she has lived for nearly two decades and is currently director of policy initiatives at Women Organizing Women.
She choked up as she thanked her father, husband and children and her late grandfather, whom she credited for teaching her about representative democracy.
“It is with tremendous gratitude that I accept the nomination. I pledge to represent you with integrity and humility,” she said, promising to be a progressive champion.
In November, Omar will face Republican Abdimalik Askar, an educator and community activist.
Omar’s success was widely praised by former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who endorsed Omar earlier this year.
“From a refugee camp to the State Capitol with intelligence and insight,” he applauded Omar.
“This is a wonderful story to tell as Americans, and a great source of pride for the state of Minnesota’s open arms.”
Winning election, Omar topped both Kahn and Mohamud Noor, a Somali-American computer scientist and activist.
“Ilhan obviously ran a very good campaign and mobilized a lot of people that we didn’t see before in previous elections,” Kahn said after the results were in.
Voters said they believed Omar could deliver change, with many of them driven to the polls by concerns for jobless young people.
“We need leaders who can change our community,” Hassan Abdi, 25, voted for the first time on Tuesday, said.
“Too many young people are going around with no jobs,” the resident of Cedar-Riverside, who works for UPS, added.
Abdi, originally from Somalia, also said he has rallied behind Omar for cultural reasons.
“In my home country, men have the power,” he said.
“This is an opportunity to show that women can do what a man can do.”