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With seven candidates vying for the office of Hennepin County Attorney, the first primary held for the office in the 21st century is more competitive than ever before.
The candidates range from retired judges and former public defenders to prosecutors and state lawmakers. Each say their experience and vision is ideal for the position amid an increase in violent crime and heightened scrutiny towards police brutality following the killing of George Floyd.
Although typically drawing low voter turnout, the primary may drive a record number of voters to determine who will replace the county’s longest serving top prosecutor, Mike Freeman, who is retiring. The top two vote-getters will then head to the general election. The winner will head charging decisions related to police killings, car jackings, juvenile and child protection cases — all while overseeing nearly 500 employees and a $65 million budget in Minnesota’s largest law office.
Retired Hennepin County District Judge Martha Holton Dimick, 69, of Minneapolis said that there are growing concerns of rising gun violence in her north Minneapolis community, but that a focus of her campaign has been to get out in the suburbs and tell stakeholders and residents “we’re not ignoring them.”
She said when she served as community prosecutor under then-County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, they brought crime down during the “Murderapolis” era. When children were being gunned down in her neighborhood, she said, she resigned from the bench after 10 years to run for office.
“My neighbors and constituents over in north Minneapolis believe that we need a police department but we need one that’s made up of very good police officers. And we’d like to see reform and you can’t see reform if you don’t have a police department.”
Jarvis Jones, 63 of Edina, is the former president of the Hennepin County and Minnesota Bar associations. He acknowledged being an underdog in the race, but said he’s been that his whole life.
“I was told I couldn’t become a lawyer and become the president of Minnesota State Bar Association. I was told that you’re not going to get these lawyers across this whole state to take Continuing Legal Education courses on ethics and eliminating bias. It happened. … I’m used to being an underdog. Does that mean I win? Not at all. But I’m a fighter.”
He said voters are being given a “false choice between safe streets and social justice reform.” But he said both can be done while treating people with dignity and respect. He said it starts by reducing the “oversized footprint of mass incarceration” from those who are homeless to low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.
Tad Jude, 70, of Maple Grove, is a former Washington County judge, state legislator and county commissioner.
He said there needs to be a crackdown on crime while filling the gaps for the mentally ill and juveniles in the system. The former DFL state representative also sought the GOP endorsement for the attorney general race.
“It’s the same highway, but I’m running in a different lane. Many of the issues are the same: the issues of homicides and carjackings and what we’re going to do to address that.”
He said a “sense of lawlessness has permeated a considerable amount of Hennepin County.”
He added, “I think we own it to our children. It’s not safe for them to catch-and-release back into an at-risk situation. We need to have safer neighborhoods and we need to have a Metro Transit that’s inviting and welcoming.” . We just need to have some of the basics taken care of.”
Mary Moriarty, 58, of Minneapolis served as chief Hennepin County public defender for six years. She said while public safety is a key issue for this office, the prosecutor’s office will also need to work with the attorney general on reproductive rights.
Moriarty said the findings from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation into the The Minneapolis Police Department indicated that “prosecutors have a hard time prosecuting violent crimes at times because of the behavior captured on camera of some officers.”
“We need accountability for both people in the community and police officers,” she said, adding “tough on crime” is not the way to achieve public safety.
“It assumes that if you make people afraid and assure them that you’re going to put the bad guys away, that will keep them safe. … It has not kept us safe, will not keep us safe and will continue to increase the racial disparities that we’ve seen.”
Paul Ostrow, 63, of Minneapolis is an assistant Anoka County attorney and former Minneapolis City Council president. He said when he was on the council there was broad consensus among colleagues on public safety and supporting police.
“We didn’t have those suggesting we needed a smaller police department. … I think what happened in the Minneapolis City Council is reflective of what’s happened nationally, which is really unfortunate, and that is even school boards are national now. . .. We moved from the politics of problem solving to political theater.”
Ostrow said a “tyranny of the minority” currently jeopardizes public safety in the county, among other factors.
“We have two crises going on at the same time. We have a crisis of violent crime and people’s concern for public safety. But at the same time, we have a crisis in terms of people’s trust in the criminal justice system.”
Saraswati Singh, 38 of Minneapolis, serves as a Ramsey County prosecutor. She’s worked for two federal judges, the US Attorney’s Office, Attorney General’s Office and Hennepin County District Court on violent crime cases.
“I was purposely getting experiences so I’d be more than qualified for this job,” she said.
“The community is willing to vote for women and people of color who have the skills and experience to do the job. They don’t need as many years under their belt, because people want someone who is real.”
She wants to move prosecutors from the drug unit to the violent crime unit to address a backlog of cases and racial inequities. She said a big role of her job is earning trust of witnesses and victims. “We can’t win at trial unless witnesses come and testify. And if they don’t trust us, we can’t prevail.”
Ryan Winkler, 46, of Golden Valley serves as Minnesota House majority leader. He said he is the only candidate with significant electoral leadership, with the past few years spent grappling with the pandemic and passing police reform in a divided government.
He said with a limited number of officers, all departments in the metro need to coordinate resources to solve crimes such as carjackings and gun violence.
“If people don’t feel safe in their homes, if they don’t feel safe personally, none of that work to make this state more inclusive and accepting of everyone and sharing its opportunity with everyone will be successful,” he said. “If people don’t feel safe, they are not open to working on justice for others. And so I see it as a condition, precedent and necessary problem to solve in order to continue our work for the kind of Minnesota that I grew up. believing in.”
Primary will narrow historic seven-candidate field for Hennepin County attorney
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