Dave Hutchinson was officially certified Tuesday as Hennepin County’s new sheriff, defeating incumbent Rich Stanek in a hotly contested race that gave the county its first new top law man in more than a decade.
But Stanek said in an interview Tuesday evening that he wanted to look at voter data from the election and wasn’t yet ready to discuss what he might do next.
That seemed to contradict a statement the sheriff issued earlier in the day, after the canvassing board had officially awarded the election to Hutchinson, when he “congratulated Sheriff-elect David Hutchinson” and said that “the transition is underway.”
It’s not necessary that Stanek concede for Hutchinson to take office. The new sheriff’s term begins Jan. 8, and Hutchinson said he has his transition team in place.
Stanek has seven days to decide whether to seek a manual recount of the votes, for which he would have to pay $95,000. Under state law, an automatic publicly financed recount would be triggered if the vote margin between candidates was 0.25 percent or below.
According to official returns reported Tuesday, Hutchinson beat Stanek by 2,340 out of 526,702 ballots, a margin of 0.44 percent — the same figures as the unofficial numbers reported after the election last week. There were also 3,102 write-in votes.
“I haven’t decided anything at this point, and a recount by the seven-day deadline isn’t the only option I can choose,” Stanek said. “The canvassing board didn’t provide any voter data and what it might show, and I’m talking with folks on how to get it.”
In his earlier statement, he said it was “a great honor to serve alongside the dedicated men and women in the Sheriff’s Office, and I look forward to continuing my service to the residents of the county until my term expires.”
Stanek said he’s been working on a transition plan for the past week and plans to meet soon with Hutchinson. He said he called Hutchinson Tuesday and looks forward to working with him.
Hutchinson said that whatever Stanek decides to do, he wasn’t worried about him.
“Stanek can spend $95,000 for the same election result,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson was a largely unknown Metro Transit sergeant who beat the sheriff with a grassroots campaign for change that delivered overwhelming vote totals in Minneapolis precincts. He has pledged “a more progressive, open, inclusive” department.
Without giving specifics, Hutchinson said he will prioritize immigration and mental health issues once he takes office. He said he has talked to County Attorney Mike Freeman about having assistant county attorneys volunteer to work with immigrant defendants.
Hutchinson said he was sure the canvassing board would confirm his election but was still relieved to hear the news. He wouldn’t promise to retain anyone on Stanek’s administrative team and said he has talked to the heads of the deputies’ union, which endorsed Stanek.
“I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll and serve the county,” he said.
The canvassing board, which included representatives from the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County, spent about 20 minutes Tuesday morning reviewing election results. The count on election night went smoothly, said Ginny Gelms, the county’s election director, with 98 percent of the vote tabulated two hours after the polls closed.
Seventy-seven percent of Hennepin County’s registered voters voted in the general election, a record for the county in a midterm election, she said. There were 2,263 rejected absentee ballots, but more than half of them were subsequently corrected by voters and counted.
As part of its postelection audit, the county will recount congressional race votes from 13 precincts and retest election equipment, she said.
Stanek made the point that 200,000 more people voted last week than the last time he ran for sheriff, in 2014. He called his opponent in that race, Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Eddie Frizell, a “tier-one challenger.” Frizell received only 32 percent of the vote, far less than Hutchinson’s 49.9 percent.
Stanek was a Minneapolis precinct inspector when he was first elected sheriff 12 years ago. A former police officer, legislator and state public safety commissioner, his background helped him take charge of the Sheriff’s Office, handle its large budget and manage the 800-person staff.
During his time as sheriff, Stanek said, violent crime declined by 26 percent, the county built a new emergency communication dispatch center and state-of-the-art crime lab, the Sheriff’s Office became more diverse and mental health protocols at the county jail were updated.
“I have 35 years of public service and I’m very proud of it,” he said. “My public service isn’t done, not even close. Things should become more clear in a couple of weeks.”
Hutchinson said he’s taking over the best law enforcement agency in the country.
“I will see you January 8th when I’m sworn in,” he said.