First Black Hennepin County Sheriff imminent; Omar barely holds seat & more

Courtesy oF Facebook/Dawanna Witt Dawanna Witt celebrates on primary election night

Dawanna Witt and Mary Moriarty were among the top vote-getters for their respective races for Hennepin County Sheriff and Hennepin County Attorney. In November, both will face moderate candidates who received the second-most votes, Joseph Banks and Martha Holton Dimick.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ilhan Omar barely held onto her congressional seat after warding off a formidable challenge from former City Councilmember Don Samuels. Rep. Betty McCollum defeated community organizer Amane Badhasso by a wide margin. Both face Republican challengers in November.

Voter turnout for the 4th Congressional District was at 22%, while turnout for the 5th Congressional District was at 30%. Voter turnout is typically low in off-year primary elections. 

Witt, Banks poised to be first Black sheriff

In the race for sheriff, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Major Dawanna Witt, emerged from the primary with more than two and a half times more votes than the second-place vote-getter, bail bondsman Joseph Banks. They now face each other in November. 

The winning candidate will become the first Black sheriff in Hennepin County, replacing outgoing and embattled Sheriff David Hutchinson, who is accused of creating a hostile work environment and was convicted of a DUI stemming from driving and crashing his county-issued SUV on Interstate 94 in Alexandria, 120 miles northwest of Minneapolis. 

Banks has voiced support for police officers and the need for law and order. He has stated that he’d like to provide incentives for police officers to live where they serve, while also “build[ing] PR and work on the community seeing police as people and citizens.” He also said he will change “outdated laws,” and “address violent crime.” 

Witt, on the other hand, wants to see those who are incarcerated as humans and provide “different programs and resources” in jails to combat recidivism.

Witt plans to continue the separation of the sheriff’s office from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement if elected. It’s unclear if Banks plans to do the same, although he says on his website that undocumented immigrants deserve “better service from law enforcement on their paths to citizenship.”

Turnout for the sheriff’s race was 20% of voters registered at 7 am the day of the primary, compared to 27% in 2018. 

Incumbent Congressmembers hold seats

Rep. Ilhan Omar defeated former Minneapolis City Councilmember Don Samuels to represent the 5th Congressional District. The district represents Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal, Brooklyn Center, Fridley, Columbia Heights, Richfield, Fort Snelling, Hopkins, St. Louis Park, and parts of Edina.

Both candidates got fewer votes compared to past congressional races, owing to lower turnout. Omar garnered 57,683 votes to Samuels’ 55,217. 

Omar will face Republican Cicely Davis in November. 

In the 4th District across the river, which represents much of Ramsey and Washington Counties, Rep. Betty McCollum won 83% of the vote, defeating community organizer Amane Badhasso. McCollum faces Republican candidate May Lor Xiong in November. 

Photo by Henry Pan Mary Moriarty at primary election night party

Votes for Moriarty more than double Dimick’s

In the race for Hennepin County Attorney, former Hennepin County Public Defender Mary Moriarty and retired Hennepin County Judge Martha Holton Dimick emerged as the top two vote-getters. Moriarty got over 62,000 votes, while Holton Dimick received 30,668. 

Both are vying to replace current County Attorney Mike Freeman, who is retiring. Under Freeman’s tenure, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office—the largest law office in the state—has been embroiled in controversy, including not charging White police officers for killing unarmed Black men and failing to hand over material favorable to the defense, called Brady material, as federally required. 

Moriarty and Holton Dimick have very different approaches to public safety and criminal justice, with Moriarty emphasizing restorative justice and ending mass incarceration, and Holton Dimick advocating for a “law-and-order” approach.

“The status quo isn’t working,” said Moriarty in a speech at her election night party in Northeast Minneapolis. “This means holding people accountable when they break the law, including the police. And it requires bringing a data-driven, trauma-informed approach to public safety.”

If Holton Dimick wins, she would be the first Black Hennepin County attorney. 

State races

Embattled DFL State Senator Omar Fateh, who represents South Minneapolis, defeated Shaun Laden, amid troubles over campaign spending. He faces Republican Andrew Schmitz in November, along with some lingering ethics complaints. (Disclosure: The author caucused for Fateh in the 2020 DFL endorsements).

Elsewhere in South Minneapolis, community organizer Zaynab Mohamed is poised to become the youngest senator ever elected in the state. She competes against Republican and addiction counselor Shawn Holster in November. If she wins, she’ll replace outgoing DFL Sen. Patricia Torres Ray. 

On St. Paul’s east side, Liz Lee defeated Rep. John Thompson. Thompson, who was a close friend of Philando Castile, was embroiled in a number of controversies, including having a Wisconsin driver’s license and berating police officers at traffic stops. Lee faces GOP nominee Beverly Peterson in November. 

Minneapolis School Board

The Minneapolis School Board had two races: one at-large race with two open seats, and the other for District 5, which generally represents the eastern half of South Minneapolis south of Lake and 38th Streets. 

For the at-large race, KerryJo Felder, Collin Beachy, Sonya Emerick, and Lisa Skjefte advance to the general election. The first two candidates are endorsed by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. The two open seats are those held by Josh Pauly, who resigned in March during the teachers’ strike, and Kimberly Caprini, who is not running. 

In District 5, Laurelle Myhra and Lori Norvell advanced to the general election. Norvell is endorsed by MFT. The winner would succeed Nelson Inz, who decided not to seek reelection. 

Correction: A previous version of this story cited a report that stated Dawanna Witt did not reside in Hennepin County. Per her campaign,  upon deciding to run for Sheriff, Witt found a residence in Hennepin County and lives in Minneapolis’ Loring Park neighborhood.