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The retired St. Paul police chief will face off against two other candidates for the Senate District 67 DFL endorsement this weekend.

John Harrington faces tough DFL endorsement contest for St. Paul Senate seat

John Harrington

Freshman DFL Sen. John Harrington may have a tough time convincing Eastside St. Paul DFLers to support his bid for re-election this fall.

The retired St. Paul police chief will face off against two other candidates — Tom Dimond and Foung Hawj — for the Senate District 67 DFL endorsement this weekend. Hawj, who ran for the seat when it was open two years ago, is a project manager at Digital Motion. Diamond is a carpenter and former St. Paul City Council member.

Dimond’s candidacy is the biggest threat to Harrington.  Dimond is criticizing Harrington’s record as conservative, pointing to several GOP bills where Harrington was the lone St. Paul legislator to vote yes. St. Paul DFLers also note that Dimond has been extremely active in the community since he left the city council more than 20 years ago.

“He has always, always remained active and he has continued to caucus. His volunteer work in the community is stunning,” said DFL St. Paul City Council member Kathy Lantry. Lantry is supporting Harrington for the endorsement, but she fears Dimond may already have more delegates locked up. “He has continued to have relationships with people and that’s what this business is all about.”

Harrington came to the Legislature in 2010 following the surprise retirement of former DFL Sen. Mee Moua. Moua announced her retirement at the end of the legislative session and after the Senate district had held its endorsing convention.  Harrington  and eight other DFLers headed to a primary election, where he won with slightly more than 30 percent of the vote. The second place finisher, Chai Lee,  earned only 11 percent of the vote.

Former St. Paul DFL Chair Jane Prince says Harrington has done little to reach out to DFL activists in the area since his election.

“I believe if he had reached out to DFLers in these intervening couple of years he might not have had a challenger, but I think the fact that he didn’t get the endorsement in 2010 and he didn’t reach out DFLers really raised the question for some if he had a commitment to the DFL Party,” Prince said, adding that some of Harrington’s past ties to the Republican Party — including donating money to George W. Bush — doesn’t sit well with some in the area. “He just didn’t show any particular interest in our process and in our opinions, and I think that if he wanted the endorsement this time, that was a significant tactical error.”

Prince is supporting Dimond, and has long list of other prominent St. Paul activists who are too. That includes Ann Daly, the wife of DFL Rep. Sheldon Johnson (Prince says Johnson is not openly supporting anyone in the race), former DFL Rep. Jim Farrell and Avi Viswanathan, an emerging leader in the neighborhood.

Activists are gathering at Harding High School on Saturday to endorse a candidate.

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