Jen Westmoreland, the partner of Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty and newly announced candidate for county commissioner, pledged on Wednesday she would recuse herself from voting on any county board actions that would “personally benefit Mary.”
“My personal relationship does not diminish my dedication to the responsibilities of being your next commissioner,” Westmoreland said. “There are well-established protocols for mitigating conflicts of interest in Hennepin County, and we have already been taking these precautions.”
That promise, via a social media post, came just minutes after Alicia Gibson of Edina, a vocal critic of Moriarty’s tenure as county attorney, announced she was entering the race to fill the vacant District 6 seat on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.
Both candidates are well known in DFL activist circles and are running for what is officially a non-partisan county board seat that represents a number of west metro cities, including: Edina, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins and Wayzata.
A third potential candidate includes former legislator Dario Anselmo, who told Alpha News last week he is considering running for the seat, which would trigger a special election primary that the county will hold on March 26. A general election for the seat — reserved for the top two candidates coming out of a primary — is scheduled to take place April 9.
Westmoreland, a two-term Hopkins School Board member, was the first to announce her candidacy last week on social media.
The vacancy for the seat became official on Sept. 21, when outgoing commissioner Chris LaTondresse resigned from the elected position to start a new job as CEO for a Twin Cities-based affordable housing development non-profit.
Alpha News reported that Westmoreland was widely rumored to be seeking to replace LaTondresse when he announced his departure in August. Westmoreland had served as LaTondresse’s campaign chair in 2020, when she was then known as Jennifer Bouchard. The two also campaigned together in 2017 as part of a slate of progressive candidates for the Hopkins School Board, which they won.
On Wednesday, just 24 hours after Alpha News was the first to report Westmoreland was running for county commissioner, she explained in a statement that she and Moriarty have taken care to ensure that they mitigate any perceived conflict of interest during Westmoreland’s campaign or if she wins a seat on the board in the spring 2024 special election.
“Mary recused herself from all discussions of legal matters related to the commissioner vacancy and the upcoming special election for District 6. I commit to recusing myself from votes as a commissioner that would personally benefit Mary, such as her salary. As elected leaders, Mary and I are both accountable to the people we serve.”
That statement stops short of Westmoreland promising to recuse herself from any policy or broad-based budgetary decisions the county board may make regarding the county attorney’s office that Moriarty oversees, which employs about 500 people and has an annual budget of nearly $70 million.
Alicia Gibson, a Democrat and vocal critic of Moriarty
On Wednesday afternoon, Gibson, who once ran for a Minneapolis City Council seat in Uptown and came in second place, announced she would also be running for the District 6 seat.
Gibson, a staunch Democrat, says she supports “full funding for the County Sheriff’s Office, a solution to housing for violent juvenile offenders, [and] expansion of wrap around preventative services for families and embedded social workers.”
Although she has touted her satisfaction with a number of DFL accomplishments during the 2022 election cycle and at the legislature this spring, Gibson, an instructor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, has pulled no punches in her criticism of Moriarty’s brief tenure as county attorney.
In April Gibson circulated a petition trying to drum up support to recall Moriarty for her “disregard for the office of the prosecutor’s responsibility to victims.”
“We are all sick and tired and ready to do whatever it takes to end a culture of impunity in politics and in policing,” Gibson wrote in an April 22 post on Facebook that links to the recall petition. “But just as abolishing police is not an answer because it harms the people we want to better serve, Mary Moriarty‘s extreme ideological positions masquerading as ‘science’ are actively harming the same people who deserve much better, who deserve an end to all forms of abuse of power.”
On a related note, one of the first people who expressed support for Gibson’s announced candidacy is former Hennepin County Attorney candidate Martha Holton Dimick, who lost to Moriarty in a hotly contested general election race last November.
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.