The field was narrowed after victors were declared late Tuesday in the primary races for Hennepin County's next attorney and sheriff, who will both be tasked with addressing a rise in violent crime.
In the first primary for county attorney in three decades, former Hennepin County public defender Mary Moriarty was declared the winner in the field of seven candidates vying to replace retiring County Attorney Mike Freeman with more than 36% of votes. She will oppose retired Hennepin County District Judge Martha Holton Dimick, who garnered 18% of the vote, edging out DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler by less than 2 percentage points.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Maj. Dawanna Witt was dominant in the race to replace outgoing Sheriff David Hutchinson with 57% of the vote. She will face Joseph Banks, a bail agent and former acting chief of the Lower Sioux Indian Community and police chief in Morton, Minn., Hanson, with 23% of the vote, narrowly defeating Bloomington police officer Jai Hanson by 2 points.
Witt, Hanson and Banks are all people of color, marking the first time Minnesota's largest county will elect a sheriff of color.
Both Moriarty and Witt won the DFL party endorsement in May. The top two candidates in each race move on to the general election.
Hutchinson said he wouldn't seek re-election in the wake of a drunken driving crash and arrest in December.
"I'm feeling really good," Witt said as she sat at Edinburgh Golf Course in Brooklyn Park awaiting results. "I feel very confident."
The other county attorney candidates who did not advance to the general election were Jarvis Jones, former president of the Hennepin County and Minnesota State Bar associations; Saraswati Singh, a Ramsey County prosecutor; Paul Ostrow, former Minneapolis City Council president and assistant Anoka County attorney; and Tad Jude, a Republican and former DFL state legislator, Washington County judge and Hennepin County commissioner.
Addressing a rise in violent crime in Minneapolis that has spilled over into some suburban communities remains a key public safety issue for the county attorney candidates.
The winner in November will make charging decisions related to a wide range of crimes while overseeing nearly 500 employees and a $65 million budget. They will work closely with the county sheriff, who will oversee a $128 million budget and operations in the county jail, homeland security and undercover narcotics investigations.
Witt is the major in charge of courts and jails at the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, overseeing 500 employees since 2019, when she left her role as captain at the Dakota County Sherriff's Office.
Moriarty, who was watching poll results from Fair State Brewing Cooperative, the country's first unionized microbrewery, said she was excited about the results overwhelmingly in her favor.
"It feels good to know that people all across Hennepin County have shared values about public safety moving forward," she said. "I'm very proud about the results tonight but I don't make any assumptions. We'll work as hard over the next three months like we have the past year."
She managed one of the largest public law offices in the state — second only to the office she is seeking now — and said there needs to be accountability with police and community to achieve true public safety.
Moriarty said that she's happy for Witt for coming out as the clear winner in the sheriff's race. "I've worked with Dawanna a lot. I respect her. I think she'll be a really good sheriff."
Holton Dimick could not immediately be reached for comment, but said last week that she decided to resign from the judge's bench after a decade when children were being gunned down in her north Minneapolis neighborhood.
"In my community alone, we've had over 90 homicides ... and that is what really prompted me to resign from the bench. Because ... I know I can do more for my community off the bench than I could on the bench," she said.