Conservative newcomer advances in Hennepin County primary over Mary Moriarty’s partner

Marisa Simonetti and DFL legislator Heather Edelson bested Jennifer Westmoreland and three others in the first phase of a special election race for county board.

Hennepin County
On Tuesday evening, Marisa Simonetti placed second among six candidates in the special election non-partisan primary for the District 6 seat. (Marisa Simonetti/Facebook)

An Edina businesswoman who launched a conservative campaign for a vacant seat on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners just one month ago has advanced to a general election runoff among a field of left-leaning opponents — three of whom had a several-month head start and a five-figure cash advantage.

On Tuesday evening, Marisa Simonetti placed second among six candidates in the special election non-partisan primary for the District 6 seat on a county board that controls a $2.7 billion budget.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. and just 30 minutes later Simonetti learned that she had garnered nearly 32 percent of the votes cast for the seat that became vacant last September when Chris LaTondresse resigned his post to take a job running a non-profit housing developer.

The top vote earner, Heather Edelson, a DFL state representative (also from Edina), earned more than 44 percent of the votes. Edelson and Simonetti will now advance to a general election on Tuesday, May 14.

“Placing top (two) is the result of all the effort of hard-working volunteers and support from our team,” Simonetti said in a campaign statement. “I am so touched and blessed by everyone who stepped up this entire campaign and made success possible. We’re almost to the finish line.”

County attorney’s partner’s entry into race raised its visibility

The second biggest surprise of the evening may have been a distant fourth-place finish for Jen Westmoreland, a progressive activist and partner of Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty. She earned less than 10 percent of votes, despite being the first to announce her candidacy in September.

Westmoreland was a key member of LaTondresse’s DFL-endorsed campaign team in 2020, which garnered support from many prominent left-leaning Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.

Hennepin County’s sixth district includes the cities of Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Shorewood and Wayzata.

The results of Tuesday’s special election primary came in just hours after the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners voted to give Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty the ability to hire outside counsel to assist her in her criminal case against Minnesota State Trooper Ryan Londregan.

Simonetti, who attended that meeting, said everyone in the boardroom could feel anxious energy among board members when Moriarty made her request.

The top vote earner, Heather Edelson, a DFL state representative (also from Edina), earned more than 44 percent of the votes. (City of Minnetonka/YouTube)

Just one commissioner, Kevin Anderson, voted against Moriarty’s request. Simonetti said she would have joined that dissent if elected to the board.

“It’s super clear where I stand on this issue,” Simonetti said. She’s published several social media posts in recent days on her view that Moriarty has overstepped her bounds on the Londregan case.

Moriarty has been in a relationship with Westmoreland since her election in 2022. That relationship became an issue early in the county board special election race when Westmoreland pledged last fall that she would recuse herself from voting on any county board actions that would “personally benefit Mary.” A handful of candidates who stepped up to run had voiced serious concerns over a perceived conflict of interest and Moriarty’s handling of public safety issues in the county.

Established DFLer and conservative newcomer will sprint to May 14 election

The campaign war chest that some candidates accumulated for the primary phase of the special election apparently didn’t matter, as third-place finisher Patrick Gage, a longtime DFL activist, raised $62,000 and spent more than $71,000.

Edelson filed her latest campaign finance report on April 18 and reported she has raised nearly $52,000 since she announced her campaign in October.

Many of Edelson’s donations came from those in her circle of DFL allies, including Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, Moms Demand Action gun restriction activist Erin Zamoff, former Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch and former legislator Ryan Winkler. Winkler, who lost to Moriarty in a primary for Hennepin County Attorney in 2022, has been a loud critic of Westmoreland’s campaign because of her ties to Moriarty. But he has voiced his support for Edelson, who voted in step with the DFL state House majority under Winkler from 2019 through 2022.

Westmoreland’s campaign reported it had raised just under $10,000 since Jan. 1. Her donors include attorney Mark Osler, who serves as assistant county attorney under Moriarty.

Simonetti, whose political career spans just more than one month, said she intently chose to stay under the $750 campaign expense limit for the primary that would have triggered a campaign finance filing requirement. She filed to run for office just before the March 11 deadline.

“I decided to run a proof-of-concept test for the (first) stage of this campaign,” Simonetti said. “I wasn’t going to raise money until I could prove our message is resonating. And it’s clear it is.”

While Simonetti said she won’t shy away from her conservative fiscal philosophy as she sprints to a 14-day campaign to win the special election, the mother and real estate entrepreneur said she plans to continue to reach out to voters with open minds.

In recent days Simonetti has made campaign appearances before west metro conservative and Republican organizations. Next Tuesday, Simonetti and Edelson will both participate in a forum sponsored by a citizens group, the Zero Burn Coalition, that’s committed to shutting down the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, a county-owned garbage incinerator in Minneapolis.

Simonetti and Edelson also participated in a League of Women Voter’s forum last month that’s available to view online.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.