This is a nonpartisan race, which means that if you live in Hennepin County you can vote in this race regardless of which partisan primary you voted in, and the top two vote-getters will go to the general election ballot in November.
This is a pretty complicated race. Seven people are running; all are serious candidates who are basically qualified for the job (in the sense that they all have law degrees, in contrast to the candidates for Attorney General, which include several people who do not). On the ballot:
In researching this race, I looked at everyone’s website and social media, I sent everyone a question (mostly by e-mail), and I watched the LWV forum (which I highly recommend as a source). I read a long Facebook post by a local defense lawyer (Jordan Kushner) who’s been in practice for a long time, and some of the questionnaires at People Over Prosecution. And a bunch of other stuff. There’s a lot of information out there. So much information. I want my faithful readers to know that I have absolutely missed stuff in this race because unlike some races, where you have to dig and dig to turn up much of anything, this is a race where you can drown in information.
Putting in a “read more” break because this one’s going to run long.
Jarvis Jones’ website tells you that he was president of the Hennepin County Bar Association and the Minnesota State Bar Association but not what sort of law he has practiced or where he’s practiced it (at a firm? in solo practice? in a government office? Digging around on his “Headlines” page I think he might have spent most of his career working for a group called the Minnesota Minority Lawyers Association? but I’m not sure.) He doesn’t seem to have any endorsements. I would not vote for him.
Tad Jude was running for Attorney General but dropped out after not getting the GOP endorsements — still, this DFL guide to Why You Really Don’t Want Tad Jude In Charge Of Anything, Anywhere remains relevant. He’s extremely conservative, wants to make all abortions illegal, etc. His website features an ad (I guess) in which he wanders around in a trench coat looking aloofly into the distance with a dramatic soundtrack that mostly made me think, “this looks like the worst Batman movie of all time.”
I was trying to figure out if he had any endorsements and looked at his Facebook. I found him repeating his campaign slogan (“make crime illegal again”) a whole lot and also this: “The mob shut down First Avenue. I will not be dictated by the demands of the mob. The rule of law will be restored in Hennepin County.” This would be a reference to the Dave Chapelle show that was moved at the last minute to the Varsity Theater — the thing I’ll note is that according to many people, First Ave’s decision was the result of nearly all of their employees refusing to work the show, soooooooooooooooo curious to know how Jude thinks he’d fix that (but not curious enough to ask, especially as he doesn’t appear to respond to questions or comments on either Facebook or Twitter.) (Also, the answer to my original question seems to be, he has zero endorsements worth mentioning.)
This guy is an absolute clown, which is probably just as well because if elected he’d be an utter ghoul.
Paul Ostrow is a former member of the Minneapolis City Council. When I watched that LWV forum he was overly fond of cliches like “I’m going to be a uniter and not a divider.” He sought but didn’t get the police union endorsement (it went to Martha — more on that when I talk about Martha). He’s one of the law-and-order-y candidates, with a “ten-point plan” that’s very focused on enforcement. One thing that leapt out at me from there: he wants to make fentanyl a “schedule 1” drug, i.e., a drug with no accepted medical use that is barred from being used clinically. (See Fentanyl’s wikipedia page for a list of its medical uses, including stuff like anesthesia.)
The thing Paul did that really pissed off a lot of people I know was that at a forum in March, Paul got asked whether he’d prosecute people for abortion-related offenses if Roe was overturned and waffled rather than just saying he absolutely would not. (He was “alone among the candidates” not to say he’d never prosecute someone for getting an abortion back in March, but Tad was running for AG rather than HCA at the time.) I went looking for whether he’d walked this back — he’s such a Boomer that he’s not on Twitter — and one of his supporters helped me locate it. In May he released a statement saying he would not prosecute abortion-related offenses and he reiterated this in June. His supporter’s defense of him was, Paul is pro-choice, but has some concerns about prosecutors deciding unilaterally which laws count, and picked that moment to try for nuance and it backfired on him. You can watch that section of the debate here, starting with the question.
A side note, here: I think that the risk of abortion becoming illegal in Minnesota in the next four years is low, thanks to Doe vs. Gomez. However, there are a whole plethora of potential risks here for Minnesotans who take steps to help friends in other states, and it’s hard to fully assess all the potential hypotheticals and how these candidates would choose to apply laws that were not written with any of this situation in mind. Other than, for fuck’s sake don’t elect Tad Jude, Actual Anti-Abortion Extremist.
Paul’s approach to policing is also kind of ambiguous. On one hand he’s very loudly pro-cop. (From his Priorities page: “Efforts to punish all police, and the communities that most need the police by defunding the police, are destructive and wrong. Blanket policies that ignore the challenges of police work are dangerous. Strict policies governing the pursuit of felons fleeing arrest are critical. Sending a message to law enforcement that they should simply allow a suspect to flee without giving chase is lawlessness.” From the LWV debate, answering a question about rebuilding trust: the HCA office “is also not a place to vilify law enforcement.”) On the other hand, he’s recently been working with a public defender to publicize the problem of police departments, and the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, hiding police disciplinary records in situations where they might be exculpatory. (That’s a really good article, incidentally, even if you know you’re not going to vote for Ostrow — it makes some of the ongoing issues at the HCA really stark.) Ostrow is also on the board of MNCOGI, which is currently working with the ACLU to sue the City of Minneapolis over the policy of using “coaching” to hide police misconduct. I’ll note, though — I only know this because he has one very enthusiastic supporter on Twitter who popped in to share some links (I think he genuinely is just a supporter and not a campaign worker, but Paul, if you wind up in the general election, you should 100% hire him to run a campaign Twitter for you.) Paul’s website doesn’t highlight any of this work.
ETA 7/31: a reader who couldn’t get WordPress to cooperate wanted to add a note about the MNCOGI lawsuit: “Ostrow was instrumental in guiding that lawsuit. He resigned from the board before he announced his candidacy. MNCOGI is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on government transparency policy.”
Paul’s two highest-profile endorsements are both former Republicans who left the GOP because it’s too conservative now: Arne Carlson and David Durenberger. He’s also endorsed by former Socialist AJ Awed, continuing one of the fastest political swings I can remember seeing in Minneapolis politics.
One final note: during the LWV forum, there was a question about their priorities for the child protection system (which is overseen by the County Attorney’s office). Paul Ostrow was one of the early people to answer, and said that it had been a big mistake to close down juvie and we needed a state of the art facility and children committing carjacking should be locked up and so on and so forth and then the next person to answer, Saraswati Singh, started with, “so, that was a question about child protection” and went on to talk about that. I don’t even know what to say about someone who hears a question about child protection and starts thinking about delinquency, but that was Paul Ostrow and Tad Jude. (Jarvis Jones also answered the question early but gave a very general answer about needing more resources that kind of works either way, I guess.)
So here’s the thing about this position: more than a lot of elected offices, this one is a job. And it’s a job Ryan, like Jarvis, seems to have no particular qualification for beyond, “I am a licensed attorney.” The long Facebook post from local attorney Jordan Kushner makes that point up front: “He has no experience in criminal law. From my research, I cannot even find any indication that Ryan has ever seen the inside of a courtroom. This is an unfortunate instance of a well-connected high-level ambitious politician trying to get elected to a serious position that calls for specialized expertise seeking to use the office as a political stepping stone.”
His positions are mostly fine, but there are two other progressive candidates in this race with way better qualifications (Mary and Saraswati). He has a long list of endorsements, overwhelmingly from fellow legislators and from building and trade unions. I was going to say that none came from anyone who works in criminal law but then I remembered he (and Dimick) got endorsed today by Mike Freeman, the retiring County Attorney. I deeply distrust Freeman’s judgment, so that’s really not a mark in his favor. Oh, also, he was endorsed by All of Mpls, which strongly suggests that he’s more law-and-order-y than he’s letting on in public. (Like, the reverse of Paul Ostrow with his law-and-order website.)
I have been mentally sorting candidates into the “law-and-order” pile (Tad Jude, Martha Holton Dimick, Paul Ostrow except maybe not) and the “community-and-connection” pile (Mary Moriarty, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Winkler except maybe not). Saraswati is a community-and-connection candidate, although I think it’s important to note that neither she nor any of the others I’ve grouped there thinks that public safety isn’t a priority. Saraswati lists her top priorities as public safety, police accountability, racial justice, and restorative justice (“all at the same time”) and views them as interconnected. I’ll note that Saraswati is pretty young; she has relevant experience (unlike Ryan) but just not a whole lot of it.
Watching the LWV forum (which, again, I think is worth watching if you’re undecided), early on, I was not impressed by Saraswati; she sounded rehearsed (and I mean, obviously you rehearse your opening and closing statements when you’re running for office, but you don’t want to sound like you’re reciting something you’ve memorized) and defensive from the start about her qualifications. As the forum went on, she hit her stride — she’s the one who caught (after deeply clueless comments from Tad Jude and Paul Ostrow) that the question had been about child protection, not juvenile justice.
I like her, and if this were a ranked-choice ballot she’d probably be my second choice. I think Mary Moriarty is a better choice, and the post from Jordan Kushner had some interesting analysis of Saraswati’s comparison of herself to Amy Klobuchar: “As I mentioned previously, experience is not as important for a candidate planning to uphold the status quo, as Klobuchar did when using the office as political stepping stone from the get-go. For a candidate claiming to be committed to reform, a thorough understanding of the criminal injustice system and its dynamics are essential.”
She has a somewhat sparser list of endorsements but it does include her boss, John Choi, the Ramsey County Attorney.
I became aware of Mary Moriarty in part because of her coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial, which was extremely helpful. One of the questions at the LWV forum was about how you rebuild trust, and she talked about transparency and talked about her work during that trial. The legal system is inherently pretty opaque to a lot of people: this makes it significantly harder to hold anyone accountable for what happens.
Mary Moriarty is promising to be a progressive prosecutor: someone whose philosophy of public safety is, “we cannot simply prosecute and incarcerate our way to true community safety.” This would not mean she would not prosecute and incarcerate violent criminals! She would absolutely still prosecute and incarcerate violent criminals. But she also wants to use evidence-based approaches to reduce crime and violence, and offer restorative justice to crime victims who want this. She also wants to hold police officers accountable for misconduct (this shouldn’t be controversial, but as you may recall, Freeman took days to charge Chauvin for a murder he committed on camera) and to use data to reduce racial disparities, something she’s done work on in the past.
I was talking to friends this morning about the various challenges of writing this post, and here’s one: if you’re not convinced that progressive prosecutors are a good thing, I don’t know how to convince you. If you think that police accountability is a problem rather than something we should be pursuing even in the face of law enforcement recalcitrance, again, I absolutely think you’re wrong but I don’t know what I can say beyond, “in a city that actually had meaningful accountability for police, Derek Chauvin would never have had the opportunity to murder George Floyd, and I think it’s worth trying to do a lot more than we’re doing to prevent the next murder by the cops.” America locks more people up than any other country on earth and this doesn’t actually get us a safer country. The idea of progressive prosecutors is not “just stop locking people up ever!” but “we should focus our lock-’em-up efforts on people whose crimes were violent, rather than going for the lower-stakes, less-labor-intensive prosecutions of (for example) people caught with personal-use quantities of drugs.”
Mary is not a former prosecutor, but she has thirty years of experience in criminal law (and yeah, I think 30 years as a public defender is good preparation for being a prosecutor). She has a long list of endorsements that starts with the DFL, includes most of the high-level progressives, and extends to a bunch of people who I think worked with her in the public defender’s office.
I would vote for Mary Moriarty.
ETA 7/31: Something I didn’t address in my writeup is that when Mary Moriarty was removed as Chief Public Defender, the board said that “she has a ‘fractured relationship’ with others in the justice system, made inappropriate social media posts, and created a culture of fear in her office.” Mary and her defenders said they actually kicked her out because of her unwillingness to be quiet about inconvenient truths about things like racial disparities in policing and prosecution. She sued and the lawsuit was settled for $300K and I’ll note that none of the articles seemed to have any specifics about this culture of fear, which is weird (how many times did we read that story about Amy Klobuchar’s makeshift fork?) Anyway — I’ve now heard a couple of reports (still without specifics) of her being a bad boss; I would still vote for her, but this has made me wonder what sorts of specifics various people are sitting on and planning to deploy in September, once she’s their actual opponent.
Just as the progressives have lined up behind Mary, the law-and-order faction had started to fall in line behind Martha, only to have some stuff blow up that may have scared some of them off. When I say I’m drowning in information, it is partly Martha I’m talking about.
Martha spent a number of years working as a prosecutor, then became a judge, and resigned from that to run for Hennepin County Attorney. She’s a Northside Minneapolis resident.
Early on, I sent every candidate a question by e-mail (or in the case of Tad Jude, Twitter DM because he doesn’t have an e-mail contact on his website) and asked them how they would handle cases of ambiguous self-defense. This was around the beginning of July, when that video of Jose Alba (NYC bodega clerk) was making the rounds (not linking, you can google if you missed it) and this had me thinking about self-defense cases past, and how differently Mike Freeman handled Cece McDonald vs. the anonymous vigilante who shot a mugger dead outside the Lake Street Target (anonymous vigilante: October 2011, no charges. Cece McDonald: June 2011, charged with second-degree murder. These two things happened about a block apart, incidentally, and although we don’t know who the anonymous vigilante was, I have always assumed it was a white male.)
Anyway. Martha wrote me back a day later. (No one else has responded.) She opened with the following: “Naomi, I appreciate your work, your interest in these issues, and the fact that you’re reaching out with this question. I assumed you were supporting one of my opponents. If that isn’t the case let me know but I am happy to answer no matter what.”
(I did, in fact, already know that I was almost certainly going to endorse one of her opponents, but I try to provide some substantive information about other candidates as well.)
Here’s the rest of her response:
The elephant in the room is obviously that we shouldn’t charge people on the basis of their race. Of course, we don’t always live up to those standards. Being the only person of color in the room in the HCAO frequently 20 years ago was a unique experience. To be frank, I saw things differently than my colleagues because I grew up as a Black person who lived in a Black neighborhood and they did not. What I can tell you for certain is that low-level decisions were frequently made based on implicit or explicit bias – more so 20 years ago than 10 years ago, and more so 10 years ago than 5 years ago. But it still happens today. I think having more prosecutors of color helps minimize those issues.
On self-defense, you probably know that the case law hinges on one word: reasonable. We’d make a decision based on that and the range is really too broad for me to speculate. I will share my philosophy below.
Charging a case sends a message. Whether you’re going to win is not the main objective when it comes to these high-profile cases – it’s about what role you’re playing in the system and the public discourse. [Regarding charging the football player date rape case in 2009]: I knew we probably weren’t going to get a conviction on every count, but we did something very valuable by trying: Hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people saw that you would be prosecuted for having sex with someone who was passed out drunk on the floor unresponsive – even if you’re a star football player. We care, we have power and we’re going to do something with it. I think that’s maybe the most important thing to hold. We have the power to send a message. What message are we going to send?
I actually really like this response? I appreciate that she was willing to say bluntly that charging decisions in the past have been heavily influenced by implicit bias, and still are. And yes: prosecuting a case sends a message, and that matters to me, a lot.
For example: it mattered to me that John Choi charged Jeronimo Yanez for killing Philando Castile. That mattered a lot. Even though Yanez was acquitted by the jury. He beat the rap, as they say, but he did not beat the ride.
Remember how I mentioned that Paul Ostrow applied for the Police Federation endorsement and did not get it? His supporter on Twitter had a really interesting comment about that. “Ostrow was shocked by the single-minded focus during this endorsement interview on understanding the candidate’s position on prosecuting police. Not even a discussion on public safety. They want a candidate that won’t prosecute the police and [Martha] is their choice.”
Anyway, I got that e-mail reply on July 9th and that same evening Martha went to the Rainville event where, okay, let me lay this whole story out for anyone who missed it. July 4th, there was a bunch of mayhem including assholes who were driving around Minneapolis shooting fireworks out of their cars at people. At a community meeting to discuss this, Michael Rainville said that he was going to talk to Somali elders and tell them “their children can no longer have that type of behavior.” (Note: none of the news coverage mentioned the race or age of the people involved in the mayhem, although “teenage” at least seems like a safe bet — who the hell else is going to shoot fireworks out of cars?) Anyway a firestorm resulted and is actually still going and I don’t like Michael Rainville but he’s not currently up for election so the Martha connection is really what’s at issue here. At the July 9th meeting, she told Michael, “I am so proud of what you said the other day” (according to the person filming that’s what she said, I’ll be honest, I can’t make anything out but general hubbub — that video was posted at 10:21 p.m.) She was then asked about this and said, “You know what he said? he said what a lot of people were thinking.” (That video was posted at 10:51 p.m.) And then, when that blew up, she released a statement (the next day) saying that she was not referring to his comments about Somalis but to his statement that Minneapolis needed to bring in extra law enforcement this summer. I find this claim dubious because why would you feel the need to whisper “I am so proud of you” because a law-and-order-y City Council rep who ran on “we need more cops” said we need more cops?
Anyway, this led to a lot of discussion of a segment of the March forum where the candidates discussed taking immigration status into account when making charging decisions. The conversation starts here. (Note: in March, Tad Jude and Jarvis Jones were not yet in the race; however, there was another guy, Simon Trautmann, who was still in it.) Martha started by focusing on people who’ve committed really serious crimes and finished by saying you’re only deportable if you committed a crime of “moral turpitude.” The thing is, “moral turpitude” isn’t defined anywhere and people literally get deported for drug possession. (That article is about a guy whose conviction was for possession of khat. In 2008. Also he’s from Somalia and Al-Shabab wants to kill him if he’s sent back there. Article is from May.) Martha has been a judge for a decade!
Martha is also deeply loathed by People Over Prosecution (they describe her as “manifestly unfit”). Jordan Kushner describes her as “AWFUL. As a judge she had a reputation for being one of the most pro-prosecution and unfair judges.” And in discussing her as a judge, local retired journalist David Brauer offered a Twitter thread summarizing this reversal (in which Martha was the “district court,” in case that’s not clear).
She’s endorsed by Jacob Frey and a long, long list of other people I don’t like, from Victor Martinez to Lisa Goodman to Michael Rainville (of course) to Barb Johnson (and let’s not forget the Police Federation).
She’s also hated by the right-wing Twitter account CrimeWatchMpls, which posted in March, “OMG, one of the worst judges in Hennepin County (and it’s a long list) is running for Hennepin County Attorney, Martha Holton Dimick. Just say no. We’re so screwed.” (Thread goes on to detail a bunch of people they think she was too easy on.) Martha QT’d this post and went on to say, “When I am the HCA, I will not let activists, politicians, or social media posts determine who we prosecute.”
Here’s something that I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate about Martha. There’s this lawyer trait I have occasionally seen in friends where they kind of can’t turn off the desire to argue. If you have a friend who will always stop and debate that “debate me!” guy, you probably know the trait I mean (and it’s not unique to lawyers, but I swear it’s almost as common in lawyers as bad handwriting is in doctors.) They can mostly keep a lid on it in a courtroom because they have to but outside, lol. Anyway, it’s sort of funny to compare her to Tad, the ultra-conservative who’s taken zero flack because he’s just hanging out, aloof in his trench coat, not interacting — Martha answered my e-mail, she stopped to talk to the activists at the Rainville meeting, she QTs her opponent’s supporters and shares redacted e-mail messages (to a lot of collective annoyance) and a lot of this stuff really is not good for her strategically! I think this is that instinct to pick fights — still active despite ten years on the bench. She’s not going to let activists tell her who to charge, but if you show up to protest a charging decision, she’s the candidate I think is the MOST likely to come out and let you have that face-to-face confrontation, during which she will not be the least bit conciliatory and after which she will do whatever she wants.
And I have to admit, I appreciate her willingness to engage even when it gets her in trouble! But wow there are a lot of people who have encountered her as a judge who had a bad experience with her. (That last story involves an Order for Protection.)
I would vote for Mary Moriarty.
In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April 2021, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis. It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven. You will also be able to get them from Uncle Hugo’s when it reopens at 2716 E 31st St! (and maybe by mail order now? I’m not sure how much mail order Don is doing while getting ready to re-open.)
I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded (or, in the case of the Movement Voter fundraiser, continuing to raise money past their goal). I explained back in May why I’m fundraising for the Movement Voter PAC and that fundraiser is still active, although I’m not sure how to adjust the goal because I frankly suck at that sort of thing. (Also, I owe some embarrassing readings of my juvenalia to the Internet.)
I also went looking and found two DonorsChoose fundraisers for classrooms at Bethune Community School in North Minneapolis: math manipulatives for pre-K students (this is such a good idea) and a nice book organizer for a first-grade classroom where the shelving is coming apart.