If experience is any guide, new Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson’s honeymoon period can’t last forever, but right now, everyone appears to be getting along swimmingly.
While getting lost on the way to this interview, I interacted with several Sheriff’s Department employees. To a person, they made a point of saying how happy they are Sheriff Hutch is in that office. “Being in public service for a long time and being a street cop not that long ago, a street sergeant,” said Hutchinson, “[I understand that] cops and deputies and employees just want to feel their work is important, and they want to be treated like [humans]. I’m the sheriff, I’m nobody special. I just treat people decent, with respect — 99 percent of the time you get it back.”
On leave from his job as a transit cop, he said: “I also worked on the North Side community engagement team beat. Before that I worked in a small community in Washington County, Bayport. Working on the North Side made me realize how much I enjoy diverse communities and I think that helped me get elected. I connected with people who normally don’t vote for sheriff. ”
Easygoing — he calls himself “Hutch” — and self-deprecating, he spent part of our meeting kidding his communications director, Jeremy Zoss. After my last question, he gently asked, “Can we make fun of him some more?” nodding in Zoss’ direction. They met when Zoss became a campaign volunteer, but they rib each other like siblings. “Sure, that’s what I’m here for,” said Zoss, whose duties also include not letting Hutch get an inflated sense of self.
Q: What are your priorities?
A: How we deal with the immigrant population that get arrested. Opioids are a big, hard topic [and] mental health. We are working day in and day out on solutions. I have such a great team. Their expertise is helping guide me to what the sheriff’s office needs to be.
Q: How did you know you could defeat longtime Sheriff Richard Stanek?
A: Well, I didn’t know at first. But as soon as I got out there on the campaign trail, I realized people had an energy about them, that they wanted a change. So I harnessed the energy with my volunteers, my friends and family, and we went out and worked harder than I think anybody has worked in local politics.
Q: What was the most shocking campaign attack you withstood?
A: There were a few. Now we are moving past them a little bit, I can think of one where we were late on some of our campaign things. We remedied that. Politics is a dirty game in some respects, and we tried hard not to make it like that. But we have since had a conversation. Mr. Stanek and I came to kind of an understanding. I respect the role that he had. The bad blood that was there, I think, is gone. We are both true professionals.
Q: One criticism leveled toward some people who run for public office is that they get caught up in the power of their position. Is that a criticism I’m going to hear about you in a few years?
A: No. This office is very powerful, but, again, I have people around me who will check me. My significant other Justin has no problem doing that. I have staff like [Zoss] and executive assistant Nadine [Kottom-Dale]. If I get out of order, [he smiled] she puts me back real quick. I’m here for the people of Hennepin County. That’s it.
Q: It seems to me goatees are very popular with sheriffs. Will you grow a scruffy one like Stanek’s (who sported one a few years ago) or go scary, like former Wisconsin sheriff David Clarke?
A: That’s a very prominent goatee. Funny you say that; we’re are having a meeting today [with the] uniform committee about facial hair and tattoos. We might allow goatees. I don’t see growing one. I don’t want to cover this beautiful face. [He smiled and flashed a bashful grin at Zoss.]
Q: You have beautiful eyes, I’ve noticed while sitting here.
A: Thank you. A few months ago, a person on the campaign said: “You know, if you lost some weight you’d be very, very attractive.” I thought, “Probably true.” So we’re working on that. I gained 40 pounds in the campaign, working full time and not working out, so ...
Q: You are going to trim down so if an assailant wants to run you can chase him?
A: That, and it’s just healthier, a better image. Just something we’ve got to do.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.