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The chairman vs. the "rock star" in county board race

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • June 23, 2012 - 10:45 PM

Sherburne County Board Chairman Larry Farber, a former Elk River police officer, is facing an unlikely political opponent -- his longtime friend, former county Sheriff Bruce Anderson.

Farber has four years' experience on the board as he seeks reelection in November, but Anderson served as sheriff for 14 years. The sheriff in neighboring Anoka County once said that Anderson was so popular in Sherburne, "he's like a rock star."

"My friendship with Bruce goes back 32 years," Farber said last week. "I called him, asking for his support. Two weeks later he was running against me.

"I don't know why he's running."

Anderson, who retired as sheriff in 2009 (after 33 years in law enforcement), said he has nothing against Farber. But Anderson, an imposing 6 feet, 5 inches, has long considered himself a natural leader whose presence rarely has been ignored.

Farber, a fiscal conservative, points out that the county's tax levy the past two years has been slightly below zero growth. But as sheriff, Anderson found ways for the county to make money. In 1998, he helped negotiate a $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to build a facility to hold federal prisoners. It opened in 2000. Since then, Sherburne County has received as much as $10 million per year to house federal prisoners, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. Last year, Sherburne County received $6.2 million, the Marshals Service said.

"Bruce had the vision to create a win-win situation for Sherburne County and our office, a vision that created revenue and employment," said Chris Kawaters, chief deputy marshal. "At the time, the U.S. Marshals Service was actively seeking sheriffs to work with. Bruce was one who stepped forward."

Open seat in 2008

Anderson said he was first approached about running for the county board in 2008 by outgoing Commissioner Arnie Engstrom, who knew Anderson already was considering life after law enforcement.

"I was looking for somebody to take my spot and Bruce seemed like the logical person, even though he was in county office already," Engstrom said. "Bruce grew up in Elk River and as sheriff, he knew this county better than anyone."

But Anderson said he "wasn't ready" at the time.

Farber was. Then a detective with the Fridley Police Department, Farber had been an Elk River City Council member from 1993 to 2000 and from 2005 to 2008.

"I was complaining about local politics and decided to put my money where my mouth was," he said.

By 2008, Farber was contemplating retirement from police work. (He retired in January of 2009, just weeks before Anderson retired in the midst of his term as sheriff.) When Engstrom, who also lives in Elk River, announced that he was retiring after 16 years on the county board, Farber seized the opportunity to run for election and govern at the next level.

"He may have been the head of the department, but I have government experience," Farber said, when asked about Anderson. "Until you're actually in county government or local government, you don't know what it's like."

But Anderson said he, too, knows what it's like to work in county government -- as sheriff and having worked under contract on various county projects since retiring.

"It's not going to be a learning curve for me," Anderson said.

"I don't have anything against Larry," Anderson said. "But there's a difference between the two of us. I've been tried and tested."

The two are the only candidates who filed for the District 1 seat, so there won't be a primary and they'll be on the Nov. 6 election ballot.

That's true of the other Sherburne County Board races: Rollie Lange and incumbent John Riebel Sr. will be on the ballot for the District 3 seat, Wendy Kowalski will face incumbent Rachel Leonard in District 5, and Felix Schmiesing, another incumbent, is unopposed in District 4.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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