Omar Fateh decided to run for state Senate in his Minneapolis district because, in his opinion, current Senator Jeff Hayden, a Democrat, was falling short in two important respects.
“What we learned here in Minnesota is that it’s not enough to just elect Democrats,” Fateh, who is running to represent the 62nd District, told The Appeal. “We needed progressive Democrats at the legislature” who will concentrate on what Fateh calls a “working-class agenda.”
Fateh also said he believes that Hayden “just hasn’t been present, especially in the poorer neighborhoods in the district.” Fateh defeated Hayden by just under 10 points in the August primary.
Running as a Democratic Socialist, Fateh said he received the endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and won the primary because “we have a lot of folks in this state that are actually shifting more to a working-class focus.” Those voters, he said, want to elect representatives at all levels of government who “represent a working-class agenda,” including affordable housing and healthcare, a living wage, and other progressive priorities.
Fateh was one of four progressive challengers who defeated Democratic incumbents in August. Now that he’s the presumptive winner of the Democratic seat, Fateh is planning how to be an effective state Senator as a freshman—particularly as a freshman replacing a nine-year incumbent who also serves as an assistant minority leader.
Without those institutional relationships to call upon, Fateh plans a different approach that involves bringing community organizations to the table to help push for needed reforms “and making sure we bring people power to the Capitol.”
Minnesotans, he added, “should be able to access the folks that are representing us and make sure that they’re partnering with the community.”
In addition to advocating for universal, taxpayer-funded childcare; early childhood education; and a $15 statewide minimum wage, Fateh told The Appeal that housing is an urgent issue in his district, where 31 percent of households are getting by on less than $25,000 a year and nearly 42 percent live on less than $35,000 a year. Forty-one percent of the districts’ renters pay at least 35 percent of their annual income on rent.
“There’s a development right near my house where a studio [apartment] was going for $1,400 bucks,” Fateh said, “and this is in one of the poorer districts in Minnesota.”
Minnesota renters who fall on hard times don’t have the law on their side. Current state law allows landlords to file an eviction action in district court the first day a tenant’s rent is late. The law also allows landlords to wait until just seven days before an eviction hearing before giving tenants notice of the hearing.
Despite Governor Tim Walz’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium, this past summer Minneapolis saw the creation of the largest known homeless encampment in the city’s history at Powderhorn Park in Fateh’s district. Residents of the encampment were forcibly evicted by the city in August.
Walz extended his state of emergency orders, including the ban on evictions, until Nov. 12. The emergency order doesn’t include rent relief, so landlords will be able to start filing eviction actions immediately after the state of emergency is lifted.
To address these issues, Fateh would like to reform eviction laws to ban evictions during the winter, force landlords to provide “adequate notice” before filing eviction notices, and require municipalities to hold an election before enacting rent control.
“What we’re seeing is that, especially in our district, rent has just been skyrocketing while wages have stagnated, and because of that, because they’re priced out, a large part of the homeless population actually do have a job,” Fateh said. “They just can’t make up the gap between staying in the shelter and the most affordable housing unit.”
Protecting renters and making sure people have housing “should be the number one priority,” he added. “Nobody should work a 40-hour week and not be able to afford rent. To me that’s immoral.”
Fateh, the child of Somali immigrants, also wants to continue to “bridge the gap” between the African immigrant community and the American culture in which he was born and raised. In one of his positions before running for office, Fateh worked for the City of Minneapolis as a community specialist to improve outreach to African immigrants. African immigrants are a sizable community in the state—according to an estimate by the city, there are 50,000 immigrants from East Africa in Minneapolis alone. As part of his work in this area, Fateh cites the struggle to force Amazon to allow time for its workers from East Africa, many of whom are Muslim, to pray.
“What we know is that the large corporations are going to take advantage of folks, especially if they’re not well versed on their rights,” Fateh said.