Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Saraswati Singh announced Tuesday that she will run for Hennepin County attorney, bringing the field of candidates to four.
Singh's challengers are former Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty, Richfield City Council Member Simon Trautmann and Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler.
"I know the system and I want to change the system that I know," Singh said in an interview. "I've already been doing progressive prosecution in Ramsey County, and Hennepin County is far behind. I just want to bring Hennepin County up to speed and make some of the changes that have been working in Ramsey County."
Singh has been endorsed by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, DFL Rep. Esther Agbaje, who represents parts of north Minneapolis and downtown Minneapolis, and DFL Rep. Athena Hollins, who represents part of St. Paul.
Singh said she would tailor solutions to Hennepin County instead of simply replicating Ramsey County practices, but pointed to Ramsey County's move away from prosecuting low-level drug possession in many cases as an example of a positive change.
Singh was an assistant attorney general with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office for a little under two years before being recruited by Choi to join his office.
"What I appreciate most about her is she's got great enthusiasm for really wanting to improve the justice system for everybody that we serve," Choi said. "I know that she's going to prioritize leaning forward around some difficult conversations about racial equity … and I know she's also going to be listening to the victims, especially of violent crimes."
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced in September that he would not seek re-election next November. The Hennepin County attorney oversees the state's largest office of its kind, with 98 attorneys in the civil division and 110 attorneys in the criminal division. The office has an annual budget of $61.9 million for fiscal year 2021. The Hennepin County attorney's current salary is $195,065.
"Hennepin County has been doing the old type of prosecution … slamming the table … the typical masculine stereotype of, 'This is what a leader looks like; you take charge and you forge ahead,' " Singh said. "That's not the type of leader I am. I'm a collaborative leader."
Singh said her campaign theme is "community." Her priorities include rebuilding public trust in the system, expanding treatment court because sending people to prison is "just a cycle," and increasing diversity in the office. She also wants to change prosecutorial culture to focus on victims and to improve prosecutors' understanding of communities of color.
Singh said her experiences as a prosecutor — none of the other candidates have prosecution experience — and being a person of color help her understand the system from multiple perspectives.
To diversify the staff, Singh said, she'll rely on a network of lawyers, particularly women and people of color, whom she has mentored for a decade, as well as her ties to professional groups for attorneys of color.
"I've been building it because I want people to succeed," she said. "I don't want to be a token person, and I don't want me to come and leave and there's nobody behind me."
Prosecuting violent crimes is also among her priorities. Singh prosecutes sexual assaults, murders and domestic abuse cases in Ramsey County, among others.
This past summer she earned a murder conviction against Clinton Delaney, who shot his pregnant girlfriend, Ashli Johnson, killing her and their unborn child. Johnson, 29, left behind four children.
"You absolutely have to address violent offenses," Singh said. "I think sometimes people think you have to choose between [prosecuting] violence or racial equity. That's wrong. You have to do both."
Singh understands the role mental health plays in the system, Choi said, and the complexities facing victims and communities of color, where people are often victimized by others in their own communities.
"I know that she'll take a really critical leadership role in the area of sexual assaults, domestic violence," he said. "That's always been a passion of hers."
Singh said enacting reforms that lessen the prosecution of low-level crimes can free up the office's resources to focus on more serious crimes.
She is open to various review processes for officer-involved shootings and deaths, including referring them to other county attorneys or the Minnesota Attorney General's Office for charging consideration.
Singh, 37, is the daughter of immigrants and was raised in New York. She moved to Minnesota in 2010 to attend the University of Minnesota Law School. She previously worked as an extern for U.S. District Court of Minnesota Chief Judge John Tunheim, a clerk for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota and a clerk for Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam, among other positions.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708