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In ‘nonpartisan’ Hennepin sheriff’s race, Stanek challenger seeks DFL endorsement

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek was a co-chair at the GOP’s state convention in May in Rochester, above. He served for 18 months as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. (File photo: Mike Mosedale)

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek was a co-chair at the GOP’s state convention in May in Rochester, above. He served for 18 months as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. (File photo: Mike Mosedale)

At a press conference announcing his candidacy on Wednesday, Eddie Frizell, a deputy chief with the Minneapolis Police Department and a colonel in the Minnesota Army National Guard, said he would he actively solicit the DFL’s endorsement in his bid to unseat two-term incumbent Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.

Although the office is technically nonpartisan, Frizell’s announcement sets the stage for an uncharacteristically competitive contest to run law enforcement operations in the state’s most populous county.

A prominent Republican, Stanek spent a decade in the House of Representatives and later served for 18 months as the commissioner of public safety under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In May, he acted as a co-chair at the GOP’s state convention in Rochester.

Frizell, who filed for the sheriff’s office in June, timed the formal announcement of his candidacy to coincide with his endorsement by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputies Association.

In what appears to be a significant rebuke for the incumbent sheriff, 75 percent of the deputies voted to back Frizell, while just nine percent supported Stanek and 16 percent voted for no endorsement.

At a press conference in the Hennepin County government center, Frizell said those results “speak loudly” to the issue of poor morale in the department.

“You can’t have a top-down type of leadership style. I describe myself as a ‘servant leader,’” he said.

Challenger criticizes administrative costs

Frizell — who, if elected, would become the county’s first black sheriff —pledged to increase diversity in the department and emphasized the need to bring more female deputies into the ranks.

He was also critical of Stanek’s fiscal management, saying that administrative spending increased by 70 percent between 2010 and 2012.

According to a Hennepin County budget document, administrative costs at the sheriff’s department rose from $6.5 million to $11.1 million over that two-year period. The increase accounted for the bulk of the growth in the department’s overall 2014 budget of $91.8 million.

Frizell, who vowed to be “a stay-at-home sheriff,” said he would scrutinize “outside the state travel” and “take a hard look” at administrative staffing.

In a press release, Frizell was more pointed in his criticisms, asserting the crime problems in the county are “certainly not going to be solved with a sheriff who’s spending all his time flying around the country.”

“We have felony warrants in our communities that aren’t being served in a timely manner. Supposedly because of budgetary reasons, these dangerous individuals are not being taken into custody on a regular basis,” Frizell said in that release. “How you can double an administrative budget over two years and still not have money to conduct basic police work is beyond me.”

Frizell said he would place a greater emphasis on community-based policing, which he said has proven effective in Minneapolis and other cities — “yet for some reason,” he said, “these types of programs are not priorities at the sheriff’s department.”

Stanek has cross-party endorsements

Reached by telephone, Stanek tersely declined to discuss Frizell’s remarks and instead forwarded a brief statement from his campaign.

“The election this fall will give everyone who lives in Hennepin County the chance to decide who is the best person to be sheriff,” the statement read. “We respect everyone who is involved in this process and strongly believe that Sheriff Rich Stanek’s outstanding record clearly makes him the best person to continue to keep people safe across Hennepin County.”

Asked about the issue of partisan endorsement, however, Stanek said he does “not necessarily seek it but they [political parties] do screenings.”

Stanek’s campaign website lists endorsements he’s received from a broad range of union groups, prominent citizens and elected officials, many of whom are Democrats. Among the lawmakers included on the list are Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis.

Stanek has also been endorsed by the Republican Party’s 5th Congressional District. That endorsement is not included on his campaign website, which is not entirely surprising given the DFL-friendly voter demographics of Hennepin County. In the 2014 presidential election, Mitt Romney garnered just over 35 percent of the vote in the county.

In his first bid for the sheriff’s office in 2006, Stanek had little trouble bridging the partisan divide, receiving nearly 65 percent of the vote as he bested the DFL’s endorsed candidate, probation officer Juan Lopez. In 2010, Stanek ran unopposed and got 97 percent of the vote.

Whether the party politics will play a larger role in this year’s contest remains an open question. It remains uncertain whether Frizell, who said he is a Democrat, will even be able to garner official support from the DFL.

“According to our constitution, it could happen but at this point we have no plans to consider additional endorsements for anything,” said Becky Boland, the newly elected chair of the Hennepin County DFL, which has been beset by organizational woes.

At its endorsing convention in April, the Hennepin County DFLers failed to make any endorsements in races for Hennepin County commissioner because of confusion over delegate credentials.

“I’d like to get our internal house in order before we start doing things that are outside of our normal convention cycle,” Boland said.  “But as my grandfather said, nothing is certain in this life but death and taxes.”

Whatever the outcome of the election, one thing is certain: The next Hennepin County sheriff will be commuting from Maple Grove, which is home to both Frizell and Stanek.  Stanek and Frizell were also once colleagues in the Minneapolis Police Department. Frizell, a 21- year veteran of the MPD, said he did not interact much with Stanek, personally or professionally.

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