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7 lawyers vie to replace Mike Freeman in Hennepin County

Attorneys face off Tuesday in a nonpartisan primary for a shot at running for Hennepin County Attorney in November.

MINNEAPOLIS — Seven lawyers representing a broad spectrum of legal experience are vying to replace Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who is stepping away after 24 years as the top prosecutor in the state's largest county.

Tuesday's nonpartisan primary is a simple runoff election. The top two finishers will face off in a nonpartisan general election in November.

The eventual winner will head a staff of 500 employees and take office during a turbulent time of rising violent crime across the nation and growing scrutiny of law enforcement interactions with the people they serve.

The candidates include Martha Holton Dimick, Ryan Winkler, Mary Moriarty, Tad Jude, Paul Ostrow, Saraswati Singh and Jarvis Jones.

Holton Dimmick said a wave of homicidal violence in North Minneapolis that included killings of children shocked her into stepping down from her post as a Hennepin County judge to run for county attorney.

"For me public safety has never been a political slogan. As a community prosecutor and as a violent crimes judge it was my profession," Holton Dimick explained.

"And as someone who lives in North Minneapolis and has seen the effects of violence, the increase of violence in my community, it became my life."

She believes her years on the bench, and before that as a Hennepin County prosecutor and Minneapolis Deputy City Attorney supervising city prosecutors have given her unique insights.

Mary Moriarty spent three decades as a public defender, including six years as Hennepin County's chief public defender, overseeing a large staff of courtroom lawyers. She has stressed the importance of being evenhanded with victims and those caught up in the criminal system.

"I understand the humanity of people who are accused, as well as the humanity of people who are harmed by the system. I understand that what we've been doing for decades hasn't worked," Moriarty remarked.

"A lot of people want to speak for victims, but they don’t want to listen to what victims actually want."

RELATED: Hennepin County pays out $190,000 to settle complaint against Mike Freeman

Rep. Ryan Winker is the House Majority Leader in the Minnesota Legislature and a technology corporate attorney. He asserts that his ability to build coalitions at the state capitol to pass difficult legislature will be a crucial skill as prosecutors, police and community seek criminal justice solutions.

"I think people are really hungry for somebody who can pull us together around a progressive vision for public safety in Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs," Rep. Winkler said.

"People in our communities deserve to be safe and they demand to be safe. We also need to have a justice system people can trust."

Tad Jude is a former Washington County judge who also spent time as a state lawmaker. He initially sought the Minnesota Republican Party's endorsement for state Attorney General.

The video he played at the state convention in May contained scenes of protesters and burning buildings, mostly news footage of the civil unrest that followed Officer Derek Chauvin's murder of George Floyd in 2020.

The convention gave the nod to Jim Schultz, so Jude pivoted his message to the county attorney race. He kept his catchy slogan.

"We need to make crime illegal again. We do that by holding violent criminals accountable."

Paul Ostrow is a former Minneapolis City Council president who sparred with the city and stadium board that oversaw the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium. He has also spent 25 years as a prosecutor, currently with the Anoka County Attorney's office.

Ostrow has long sounded the alarm about the deadly drug fentanyl and pressed to increase penalties for dealers, asking that it be treated the same as heroin in the state's criminal code.

"Everybody wants to be safe. That’s the issue in this campaign - how do we restore a sense of safety? We do it only if we have someone with the experience, the integrity and the background to get the job done."

Saraswati Singh is a Ramsey County prosecutor who handles violent crime cases. She has previously worked as a staff lawyer for the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Minnesota Attorney General's Office.

"My priorities are the community's - public safety, police accountability, and racial equity. I can do all three at the same time!"

In a campaign video Singh concedes she looks young, but she points out she's 37.

"I'm the same age Amy Klobuchar was when she was elected to Hennepin County Attorney!"

Jarvis Jones is the former head of the Minnesota Bar Association and the Hennepin County Bar Association. He asserts the citizens of Hennepin County shouldn't have to choose between restoring order and respecting the rights of the accused.

"We have a fundamental right to have safe streets. We should not be apologetic about that. At the same time, we can be making sure we treat everyone fairly, equally, with respect and dignity."

Freeman's six terms weren't contiguous. He was elected in 1990 and 1994, and then sought other offices, which opened the door for Klobuchar to be elected county attorney in 1998 and 2002.

When Klobuchar ran for Senate in 2006, Freeman ran for his old post. He won in 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018. 

For more information on this election or how to take part, click here to go the KARE's Voter Tool Kit.

RELATED: 2022 Voter Guide: What to know about Minnesota's elections

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