Dario Anselmo made it official on Thursday when he announced he’s running for what’s expected to be a closely watched special election this spring for a recently vacated Hennepin County commissioner seat.
The business leader and former legislator represented Edina in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2017 and 2018 after he ran and won as a moderate Republican against long-time incumbent Ron Erhardt.
While at the capitol, the commercial real estate entrepreneur, former music venue owner and mental health advocate branded himself as a problem solver willing to work with both sides of the political aisle to represent a community that leans Democrat.
Anselmo ultimately lost his re-election bid to DFL challenger Heather Edelson amidst a “blue wave” in 2018. But the Duluth native, who grew up in the Twin Cities and raised his children in Edina, plans to bring that politically pragmatic approach to the District 6 seat on the county board that he said is sorely needed. The seat represents Edina, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins and a number of communities around or near Lake Minnetonka.
“Hennepin County’s western suburbs need a commissioner with a proven track record of addressing the quality-of-life issues that matter most to its citizens,” Anselmo said. “Those issues — public safety, protecting taxpayers and addressing the rising mental health crisis — have been the foundation of my private sector career and public sector volunteer work.”
Following his departure from the state House, Anselmo ran a hard-fought race in 2020 as an independent candidate for the District 6 seat on the county board. He lost to DFL-allied Chris LaTondresse by five percentage points during an election cycle that was favorable to Democrats. But he carried his hometown with about 60 percent of the vote. LaTondresse, who leaned on fundraising that came with his DFL endorsement, performed stronger in his hometown of Hopkins and in communities to the west.
Campaigning as ‘purple’ independent against two blue DFLers
This time around, Anselmo has stepped into a race that already features two self-professed progressive DFLers: Jen Westmoreland, a Hopkins School Board member and DFL activist, is the partner of Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty. Alicia Gibson is a former DFL candidate for Minneapolis City Council, who moved to Edina in 2022 and has been a vocal critic of Moriarty’s tenure as county attorney. In April, Gibson circulated a petition to recall Moriarty. Both Westmoreland and Gibson teach at community colleges in the Twin Cities.
The special election for the seat was triggered last month after LaTondresse resigned to start a new job as CEO of a non-profit multifamily housing developer. While candidates aren’t allowed to file until Jan. 30, as long as more than two file for office, a primary will be held on March 26. The top two vote earners will go on to an April 9 general election. The winner will serve out the rest of LaTondresse’s term, which is set to expire in 2024. Which means another election will be held for the seat next November.
In recent weeks, Anselmo said he had been receiving numerous calls from friends, former colleagues and residents from across the district encouraging him to run for commissioner again after they heard news of the other candidates who had entered the field. Many, he says, including a number of Democrats, have expressed frustration with the policies and politics Moriarty has brought to the county attorney’s office, and aren’t pleased to see her partner is running for a board that sets the budget for the county attorney’s office she leads.
“Having run campaigns before, I know how much work they are,” Anselmo said. “And the districts I campaigned in always seem to be the most work.” Those areas are considered to favor Democrats in recent years, but Anselmo, who considers himself a fiscally responsible moderate, said it’s no mistake his campaign color is purple.
“The residents in Edina, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins and the communities to the west, in Hennepin County, they know how important this election is from a public safety perspective,” Anselmo said. “Hennepin County really has an outsized impact on the rest of the metro.”
He listed public safety, mental health and property taxes as his top issues he plans to bring to the seven-member board if elected.
“We need to keep a close eye on the budgeting process and make sure our tax dollars are spent wisely and responsibly. Standing up for taxpayers will be a top priority of mine,” Anselmo said.
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.