The Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Senate District 62 primary race between first-term incumbent Omar Fateh and union leader Shaun Laden is heating up as Fateh is facing questions about past campaign practices.
The election will take place with Fateh under scrutiny from voters, reporters, legislators, and the courts related to campaign and ethics complaints. He is under investigation for two possible ethics violations, initiated on May 22 by seven members of the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus. Their complaint asks the ethics committee to “examine the report that Senator Fateh received an in-kind contribution of a campaign advertisement from a commercial entity, and then in response carried legislation that would have benefited that commercial entity. Also, it looks at “the extent of Senator Fateh’s involvement” “in a case of election fraud” that involved Muse Mohamed, his brother-in-law, who was recently found guilty of lying to a federal grand jury during the testimony he gave in October 2021 related to his work as a Fateh campaign volunteer.
The first two senate subcommittee hearings into the complaints were held June 8 and 15. Fateh has a lawyer representing him at the hearings and has denied violating senate ethical standards. Testifying before the subcommittee about election impropriety, Fateh said, “I did not directly or indirectly encourage anybody to act improperly at any point whether its voting or absentee ballots or any part of the election process.” After the hearing, the subcommittee voted to continue the investigation and announced plans to subpoena two witness and to reconvene on July 7. There they hope to take testimony from Siyad Salah, president of the Somali TV, and Dawson Kimyon, Fateh’s former legislative aide and 2020 campaign manager.
Fateh (who did not respond to requests for an interview) was first elected to the senate in 2020 after defeating the incumbent, Jeff Hayden, in the DFL primary. In the senate, he sits on the Human Services Reform, Human Services Licensing, State Government & Elections, and Technology & Reform Committees. He is also a member of the Council of Minnesotans of African Heritage.
He is noted on the legislative website as the first Somali American and the first Muslim to serve in the Minnesota Senate. He was an unsuccessful candidate for District 62A of the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2018 and for Fairfax County School Board (Virginia) in 2015. He was born in Washington, D.C. and attended George Mason University where he earned a master’s degree in public administration. Since moving to Minnesota he has worked for the city of Minneapolis as a community specialist, Minnesota Department of Transportation and Minnesota Department of Revenue. Since his 2018 run, Fateh has worked for the University of Minnesota as a business analyst. Fateh and his wife Kaltum currently rent an apartment in the Ventura Village neighborhood.
Laden has been a Minneapolis renter for over 20 years. He lives in Whittier with his wife, Cecilia, who is a teacher at Whittier School. Before living in Whittier, he lived in Logan Park, Stevens Square, and Marcy Holmes.
As the president of the education support professionals’ chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Union, Laden co-led the recent strike that improved hourly school workers’ pay, protections for educators of color, and support for students. After that campaign, he said, “I decided to run for Senate to fully fund our public schools and improve the lives of working class neighbors like I did as president of our majority women and people of color MFT ESP union.”
Laden has worked on many campaigns, including for Paul Wellstone (2002), Keith Ellison (2006 and 2008), Karen Clark (2014 and 2016), the Minneapolis Ranked Choice Voting ballot initiative, and the Minneapolis Public School Levy Referendums (2016 and 2018).
His community experience includes work starting a community garden, opening and running the Uptown Farmer’s Market, and winning improved labor standards for a group of workers at the University of Minnesota.
“As a Campus Camp Wellstone trainer,” he said, “I taught college students around the country about organizing for change and a people-centered politics.” He is most proud of “leading our Education Support Professionals (ESP) union from one where fewer than half of ESP were union members, to today where over 80% are and we have achieved what one ESP called ‘life-changing financial improvements for hourly workers.’”
According to Fateh’s campaign website, “In his first legislative session, Fateh has made a name for himself as one of the most active and vocal members of the Senate minority caucus… Fateh has demonstrated leadership emblematic of our courageous community of Southsiders, and, in the process, he is sure to have ruffled the feathers of some very powerful opposition.”
It is hard to know how the ethics probe and criticism of Fateh will impact the primary. Some prominent DFLers, including Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, are still supporting him. “As long as I’ve known Senator Fateh, he has been a tireless public servant and absolutely dedicated to his constituent,” she said in a public statement endorsing him. “We need more people like Omar Fateh at the State Capitol.”
Laden has also been endorsed by local DFL elected officials including Minneapolis School Board Member Kimberly Caprini and State Representative Sydney Jordan.
Cedar Riverside resident Kayseh Magan supported Fateh in the past but is now supporting Laden. “As a Somali-American, I was thrilled to support Omar Fateh’s historic run for the Minnesota Senate in 2020,” he said. “Fateh invited me to his campaign kick-off event and I donated to his campaign. However, I have been disappointed in how Senator Fateh has addressed the recent scandals surrounding his campaign. Senator Fateh has been dishonest to DFL Senate leaders about his relationship to a man who was recently convicted of perjury, in a case relating to voter fraud in Senator Fateh’s primary race in 2020.”
Magan has been following the ethic complaints, and court case carefully, and is convinced that Fateh’s campaign took advantage of Somali American voters. “Two individuals from the Somali community testified that they never authorized Fateh’s brother-in-law and campaign volunteer to deliver absentee ballots for them,” said Magan. “Senator Fateh has refused to speak to the media or to answer to his constituents about the voter fraud allegations.” He added, “For these reasons, I can no longer support Senator Fateh.”
“As an educator who has worked in the Minneapolis Public Schools for 11 years my top priority would be fully funding our schools,” said Laden. “I will also prioritize police accountability and transforming public safety, building more public housing, and unrestricting Minnesota to ensure safe and accessible abortion care to all Minnesotans who seek it.”
Fateh lists “fully funded public schools,” as his first priority on his website, followed by housing, livable wages and worker dignity, climate change and environmental justice, civil rights, public safety and policing, and healthcare.
“This primary is a choice. Who do you want fighting for us in Saint Paul?” said Laden. “I am someone who has created real change to materially improve the lives of thousands of working class union members like paraprofessionals and food service workers, the majority of whom are women and people of color. I will be a tireless champion for working people in our district, and will take my experience creating real change in working people’s lives to St. Paul to get things done for our neighborhood.”
The primary election that will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 9 will determine which of the two candidates will be on the ballot in the November general election. Early voting in the primary goes from Friday, June 24 through Monday, Aug. 8.
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