A forum for the seven candidates running for Hennepin County Attorney was held Wednesday, July 27 at Ties Lounge & Rooftop in downtown Minneapolis. The event was hosted by The Minneapolis Downtown Council, Building Owners & Managers Association of Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. It was moderated by Reverend Dr. DeWayne Davis, the lead minister at Plymouth Congregational Church.
The upcoming primary race for county attorney will decide which two candidates move on to the general election for the office in November. Michael Freeman, the current county attorney, will be stepping down after serving six terms.
“The next Hennepin County Attorney will play a critical role in ensuring a secure and just community during their term of office,” said Steve Kramer, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. “It’s important for voters to understand the experience candidates would bring to the job, as well as their priorities for addressing concerns about public safety downtown and in communities throughout Hennepin County.”
The seven candidates are:
Martha Holton Dimick, a former prosecutor and current Hennepin County judge
Jarvis Jones, a long-time local attorney
Tad Jude, a former state senator and current judge
Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender of Hennepin County
Paul Ostrow, an assistant county attorney and prosecutor
Saraswati Singh, a current assistant county attorney and former assistant attorney general
Ryan Winkler, current House Majority Leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives
At the forum, the candidates agreed that the County Attorney’s Office needed to continue to work with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) but varied in how they saw the two offices collaborating.
“I see the county attorney working with the police departments, but in an objective manner. There has to be both the collaboration and continuing education,” Jude said.
Singh brought up embedding a prosecutor with MPD as a means of collaboration. “The Hennepin County Attorney’s office already does this with sexual assault cases, and I think it’s been a fantastic success,” Singh said. “We need to do the same thing regarding training on excessive force standards, the basis and where we expect people to be.”
Most candidates agreed that there were cultural issues within MPD. “We need to help with the culture,” Moriarty said. “The [State] Human Rights Department [report finding MPD violations] was not a surprise to me at all. Because as a public defender, I have seen this behavior that makes it hard to prosecute these cases.”
Moriarty also said she would forward policy violations on to police chiefs and have conversations on why those violations occurred. Winkler suggested the creation of an independent police accountability unit.
Ostrow disagreed with the majority of candidates about the presence of a culture issue among MPD’s rank-and-file. “We have a culture problem, but it’s not a police culture problem,” Ostrow said. “It’s a problem of a total absence of political leadership… Those rank-and-file officers, it’s not their culture who’s broken, it’s their leadership who’s broken. You know who hates bad cops? Good cops.”
Jones said he was “outraged” to hear from any candidate that there was not a cultural problem in MPD. “If I take off my suit right now, take off my bow tie, and I go in Minneapolis at night, I will be just another negro walking down the street and being subject to being pulled over,” Jones said. “I’ve been pulled over so many times when I’m in Minneapolis—so there is a cultural problem.”
Jones also noted that he believes there is a “blue wall,” and that he did not think good cops turned bad cops in.
Candidates generally agreed that there needed to be more resources to address youth crime. Holton Dimick referenced that North Minneapolis lacks programs and facilities for children such as the recreation centers seen in the suburbs. Singh spoke about addressing factors that cause crime in order to reduce juvenile offense rates.
No candidate directly addressed their opponents during the forum, but some remarks were likely pointed at specific individuals, such as when Holton Dimick emphasized that she was the only candidate that ran an office of prosecutors and not defense attorneys. Moriarty managed the Adult Division of the Hennepin County Public Defender’s office.
“[Defense attorneys] work on the other side of the aisle,” Holton Dimick said. “The prosecutors take care of the victims of crimes. The defense attorneys, we know what they do: They represent the criminals.”
Voting will be held for the primary on Aug 9. Election Day is November 8. For more election information, visit www.sos.state.mn.us.
Cole Miska is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.