Hennepin County residents elected their first commissioners of color, and a first-time candidate was poised to unseat Sheriff Rich Stanek in a historic election Tuesday.
Dave "Hutch" Hutchinson, a police sergeant for Metro Transit, was ahead of Sheriff Rich Stanek by 2,329 votes with all precincts counted.
Hutchinson, 39, was endorsed by the DFL Party and found strong support in Minneapolis during the primary. Stanek, a former Republican state legislator, had served as the county's top lawman for 12 years and was seeking his fourth term.
The election was so tight that it wasn't clear whether Stanek's office would contest the results.
Hutchinson would be the first openly gay sheriff in the Midwest.
"The thing about elections now, we win elections by people power," he said Tuesday night. "It's not about money anymore."
During his campaign, Hutchinson pushed for comprehensive reform of what he called Stanek's "iron-fist ruling." He said he would work to cut ties between the county and federal immigration authorities by stopping the practice of asking for a person's country of origin when they are booked into the jail.
"We're gonna make sure our immigrant friends are taken care of just like anybody else," he said. "We're going to make Hennepin County a safe and secure county for everybody."
Stanek cited a drop in violent crime and a need to keep fighting the opioid epidemic as reasons to keep him in office.
Meanwhile, the Hennepin County Board, which was formed in 1852, will have its first two commissioners of color in history.
Angela Conley had a resounding victory over Commissioner Peter McLaughlin to represent the county's Fourth District, which covers parts of Minneapolis. McLaughlin has served on the board since 1991 but failed to get the DFL endorsement this year.
"The district was looking for change, and they got it," McLaughlin said, after conceding to Conley Tuesday. "It's a historic election."
McLaughlin offered some advice for Conley, also a political newcomer. "It's a great district, very complex. The chance to learn about all the nooks and crannies, all the corners of the district is an exciting prospect, and she should relish it."
In the Second District, which represents northern Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs, first-time candidate Irene Fernando defeated former Minneapolis City Council Member Blong Yang.
Fernando and Yang were vying for an open seat on the board, as Commissioner Linda Higgins announced her retirement last year.
Fernando, who works in talent management for Thrivent Financial, said she'd work to diversify leadership roles in the county and encourage more businesses to come to the county.
Conley said she was excited to get on the board and begin focusing on housing and the county's homeless population. She said her district, and Fernando's, reflect a more diverse Hennepin County.
"This victory shows you that the district is changing. The demographics have changed," she said. "The people want to see change."
In the Third District, Commissioner Marion Greene was re-elected to her second full term representing St. Louis Park and southwest Minneapolis.
Mike Freeman was re-elected as Hennepin County Attorney, besting his DFL-endorsed challenger, Mark Haase. It was the first time in 12 years that he's had a challenger. He was coming off what he says have been the most difficult years as county attorney, partly because of his charging decisions regarding fatal shootings by police officers.
"I think I'll be a better county attorney for having run again," Freeman, 70, said Tuesday night.
"People want a county attorney who can make the tough decisions, but I need to be very diligent in trying to explain why I made them, and to share the facts that I based the decision on," he said. "People want that transparency."
Both candidates were focused on similar issues, including reducing the number of low-level marijuana convictions and improving investigations of sex crimes.
Haase's campaign had garnered nationwide attention and tapped into a fervor for criminal justice reform.
"The campaign is over but the movement is not," Haase said.