Opinion editor's note: Editorial endorsements represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom. The board bases its endorsement decisions on candidate interviews and other reporting.

Violent crime and the overall erosion of public safety are top of mind for many Minnesota voters as they go to the polls this election season. Engaged citizens also want to see effective reforms in policing, including more accountability for police officers, in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Those issues have created heightened interest in the race for Hennepin County attorney. The office, which makes criminal charging decisions and litigates violent crime, must balance more aggressive prosecution with the need to bring more fairness to the justice system.

Early next year, Hennepin County residents will have a new top prosecutor for the first time in 15 years. Since 1991, the office has had only two leaders: Mike Freeman, who is retiring after serving 24 years in nonconsecutive terms, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who led the agency for eight years.

The two candidates voters selected from a field of seven in the August primary — retired Hennepin County District Court Judge Martha Holton Dimick and former Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty — both have extensive experience in the criminal justice system.

However, Holton Dimick, 69, is best suited to lead the office at this critical time. She also earned a Star Tribune Editorial Board endorsement ahead of the August primary election, which Moriarty easily won. That same editorial raised questions about Moriarty's controversial background as chief public defender.

The next county attorney will manage a $65 million budget and a staff of about 460 — including about 200 attorneys. The office prosecutes felonies committed by adults and all juvenile crimes while also providing legal services for county government and advocacy for crime victims.

Dimick's life and professional experiences align with what the office needs. Raised in Milwaukee, she was a young single mom who became a nurse to provide for her daughter, then returned to school to earn a law degree. When she moved to Minnesota, she worked in private practice, as a prosecutor for Hennepin County, and as a Minneapolis deputy city attorney, where she helped manage the office.

Dimick, who has lived in north Minneapolis for 20 years, understands from personal experience that communities of color with higher crime rates want prosecutors to bring offenders to justice.

"We have to send the message that there are going to be consequences if you commit a crime," Dimick told the Editorial Board before the primary, adding that she did not endorse efforts to defund or dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.

Dimick told Editorial Board members that her priority would be working with law enforcement to prosecute violent and repeat offenders. At the same time, she believes in restorative justice and finding effective alternatives to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent offenders and would hold bad cops accountable.

While on the bench, Dimick earned a reputation for being tough but fair, and for building relationships with law enforcement and citizens. She says she and other attorneys from the office would spend time in the community to help build more credibility and trust in the office.

Moriarty, 58, worked as a Hennepin County public defender for 30 years — the last five as the office's chief. She's made important contributions to public understanding of racial bias in policing and criminal prosecution after evaluating data about who gets stopped by officers and why. She said that if elected she would set up a police accountability unit within the prosecutor's office.

Though she has experience managing attorneys and a passion for reform, the Editorial Board remains concerned about her ability to transition from defender to prosecutor and to provide effective leadership for the office. As chief public defender, questions were raised about Moriarty's management style and strained relationships with other criminal justice leaders. Moriarty was suspended from the position in 2019, and the state board declined to reappoint her.

Last year, she agreed to accept a $300,000 settlement to avoid a looming discrimination lawsuit, she told the Star Tribune. As part of the agreement, she can no longer work as a public defender in Minnesota. A report cited several issues, including that Moriarty posted "inappropriate and offensive" content online, "fractured" relationships with criminal justice leaders and created a fear of retaliation in her office. Moriarty has said she was let go because she spoke out about racial justice and salary parity.

Dimick recently faced social media criticism for not having an active law license when she filed to run for office, which is required for county attorneys. She told an editorial writer that she had changed her license status to "inactive but in good standing" for a short time to save a fee but has since updated her status to "active."

The race for Hennepin County attorney is nonpartisan. However, both candidates identified themselves as Democrats. Moriarty has DFL backing along with endorsements from a list of elected officials. Dimick has endorsements from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Deputies Association, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, 30 mayors within the county and some current and former elected officials.

The winning candidate will make history. Dimick would be the first Black woman, and Moriarty would be the first openly gay woman to run the office.

Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and D.J. Tice. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune Publisher and CEO Michael J. Klingensmith serves as an adviser to the board.