Former Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty clinched the county's DFL endorsement for Hennepin County Attorney over the weekend, beating out a slate of candidates, including the party's own House Majority Leader.
The race to lead the largest county attorney's office in Minnesota is highly contested, with seven candidates vying to succeed attorney Mike Freeman, who is not seeking re-election and came under fire for his handling of police shootings. Moriarty has vowed to reform the Minneapolis Police Department, a message that resonated at the Hennepin County DFL endorsing convention Saturday at Hopkins' Eisenhower Community Center.
"The idea of public safety depends on reform because what we're seeing from Republicans is doubling down on longer punishments. And that just hasn't worked. It's made terrible racial disparities," she said. "And so we need reform if we want public safety, and we can't keep communities safe without building trust with law enforcement."
Maj. Dawanna Witt also earned the endorsement for Hennepin County sheriff. She's the high-ranking Hennepin County Sheriff's Office administrator, supervising 500 employees as the major in charge of the courts and jail.
DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler was runner-up in the endorsing convention. From the onset of the convention, Winkler said he would not suspend his campaign if he didn't receive the endorsement. In a phone interview Sunday, he confirmed that he is carrying out his campaign for the August primary and expects to be on the November ballot.
"I'm disappointed about not being endorsed yesterday and worked hard to try to bring enough delegates to win," he said. "But in the end, a couple of organizations I think were able to help the Moriarty campaign bring in about 100 more delegates than I was able to."
Winkler pointed specifically to the organization People Over Prosecution, a nonprofit political action committee that led a petition drive to recall Freeman in the wake of George Floyd's murder and endorsed Moriarty. When Winkler stated his opposition to last November's ballot question seeking to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, he said he "was unlikely to be the candidate supported by the people behind that effort."
Based on what unfolded at the convention, Winkler said that "it seems likely that Mary Moriarty and I would be the candidates moving onto the general election."
"Which I think is going to present a choice," he said. "I'm a progressive Democrat. I share a lot of the same goals that the other candidates have talked about, but I'm not willing to go to the extent of being willing to dismantle our whole public safety system the way some organizations wanted us to pledge to in order to get their support."
Others seeking the endorsement for Hennepin County Attorney include former District Judge Martha Holton Dimick, Richfield City Council Member Simon Trautmann; Saraswati Singh, a Ramsey County prosecutor; and Jarvis Jones, the former president of the Minnesota State Bar Association.
Holton Dimick's campaign said she will be staying in the race and go to the primary.
A seventh candidate, former Minneapolis City Council President Paul Ostrow, who now works as assistant Anoka County attorney, did not seek DFL endorsement.
Winkler noted that he is the only labor-endorsed candidate, with unions representing attorneys and staff in the County Attorney's Office, and the union representing public defenders backing his candidacy. "So I am not sure that this particular endorsing convention signifies very much at all, except that credit where it's due: The Moriarty team was able to mobilize a base of voters to show up yesterday."
On Saturday, three county commissioners seeking re-election were unanimously endorsed: Irene Fernando, Angela Conley and Marion Greene.
Witt bested Suwana Kirkland, president of Minnesota's National Black Police Association chapter, for the endorsement for Hennepin County sheriff.
Witt said she's the right person for the job particularly "in the times that we're in now," she said. "I got a lot to bring to the table and am ready to get to work."
The two DFL-endorsed candidates worked together in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, accommodating Zoom court appearances and other safety measures to keep staff and clients safe.
Witt said that while she had "deep conversations" with Moriarty and has never had a bad experience working with her, she is still getting to know the other candidates.
"Whoever the sheriff is, whoever the county attorney is, what's important is that we work together," Witt said.