An ultra-progressive ex-public defender who believes “we cannot incarcerate our way to true community safety” and wants to provide alternatives to “traditional prosecution” came in first place in Tuesday’s primary for Hennepin County attorney.
Mary Moriarty finished with 36% of the vote in the race to be the chief prosecutor of Minnesota’s most populous county. Martha Holton Dimick came in second place with 18% of the vote, nearly 20 points behind Moriarty.
In a field of seven, only the top two candidates will move on to the general election.
It’s possible that the “law-and-order” vote was split among Moriarty’s opponents, such as Republican Tad Jude, and will coalesce around Dimick in the general.
The race is another battleground in the feud between Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Rep. Ilhan Omar. Hennepin County covers the city of Minneapolis, which Omar represents in Congress. Mayor Frey and the police are backing Dimick; Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison support Moriarty.
Frey endorsed Omar’s own primary challenger, Don Samuels, in Tuesday’s election. In a race that many expected Omar to easily win, she squeaked out a two-point victory, the closest she’s come to defeat in her short congressional career.
Moriarty spent 31 years as Hennepin County’s chief public defender. Her campaign for county attorney is supported by a group called People Over Prosecution, which opposes “tough on crime” policies.
“The causes of crime are multiple, complex, and social — which means easy solutions like ‘locking up the bad guys’ will never work,” the group says on its website.
People Over Prosecution devotes a page on its website to explaining how politicians use the fear of crime to win elections.
“Violent crime has been falling sharply for decades. Even with the rise in some violent crimes during the pandemic, our crime rates are still well below what we experienced in the 1980s and 1990s — but you’d never know it from listening to career politicians or reading the news. And that’s because both the media and career politicians have a vested interest in keeping us afraid,” the organization says.
Many of these talking points are repeated on Moriarty’s campaign website, where she explains how she wants to use “restorative justice opportunities as an alternative to incarceration.”
“Research and data show that non-restorative models of punishment do not prevent recidivism, do not repair families, and cause harm to a community. Incarceration, sometimes a year or more after a crime is committed, disconnects the punishment from the impact of a crime on a victim. Incarceration disconnects the person who committed violence from their community and makes reintegration extremely difficult,” Moriarty says.
Whoever wins in November will replace retiring Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who has spent well over two decades in the office, with one interruption when Sen. Amy Klobuchar was at the helm.
Tuesday also saw Dawanna Witt and Joseph Banks advance in the Hennepin County sheriff’s race. Independent candidate Jai Hanson came up two points short.