Nine candidates up for District 2 Hennepin County Commissioner in August 14 primary


Nine candidates are running for the District 2 Hennepin County Commissioner seat vacated by Mark Stenglein, who, after 15-plus years on the job, resigned to lead the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

The election will follow the time cycle of a general election, with a primary on Aug. 14 and the general election Nov. 6. Because Stenglein left in mid-term, this is technically a special election, and the winner will be sworn in immediately, rather than waiting until the regular terms end in January.

Don Samuels, who represents many Northside residents as 5th Ward Minneapolis City Council member, filed for the county commissioner job but stopped his campaign earlier this month. He endorsed candidate Linda Higgins, who currently represents Northside residents as State Senator.

The top two vote getters in the Aug. 14 primary, regardless of party affiliation, will go on to the Nov. 6 general election.

NorthNews asked each for background information, and answers to four questions:

  • Why do you want to serve as Hennepin County Commissioner? (WHY)
  • What is the top priority for Hennepin County government? (PRI)
  • District 2 is home to some of the most wealthy and some of the most economically-challenged people in the county, and “everything in between.” Discuss your experience working with people of differing economic means, and how, as commissioner, you plan to balance their sometimes-conflicting needs. (ECON)
  • District 2 is home to wildlife preserves and polluting industries, and “everything in between.” And, the Mississippi River runs right through the district. How should the county balance environmental protection and economic development that might pollute or otherwise threaten the environment? (ENV)

Leslie Davis

U.S. Army, Honorable Discharge; trained in father’s NYC garment center factory; sales, marketing, and trend analysis in the apparel industry; founder and president of www.

(WHY) I want to implement my water, energy, and money plans and as a commissioner I can have them incorporated into the board’s legislative agenda for the 2013 session, and advanced by the county’s outstanding “Intergovernmental Relations” lobbying group thus making our county the greatest in America.

(PRI) Lower taxes, increased revenue, jobs, environmental protection, placing our kids in their appropriate course of study, and leading the way toward healthy diets and lifestyles. My plans for water, energy, and money will make it easier for us to achieve our goals.

(ECON) My life experiences have brought me in contact with the good, the bad, and the ugly. I grew up in Brooklyn in the ‘50s, traveled the Midwest in the ‘70s, helped raise four children, and have been an Earth Protector for the past 30 years. I was a Webelows scout leader, board member of Mt. Zion Temple, Little League coach, and one of Minnesota’s highest earners in the 1970’s. I can work effectively with everyone. Everyone.

(ENV) The environment should always be protected. Economic development doesn’t pollute, polluters pollute, whether public or private. During the past three decades as founder and president of the Earth Protectors I’ve proven that pollution control creates jobs and a healthy environment is essential for a healthy economy. I don’t anticipate any conflict between sensible sustainable environmental practices and positive development.

Steve Dehler

Cathedral High School, St. Cloud Minn.; St. John’s University, Collegeville Minn; Metro State, St. Paul, Minn., St. Paul Technical College, St. Paul, Minn.

Worked in and co-owned a grocery store in St. Joseph, Minn. for 28 years. Worked part time for Coborns Inc. in St. Cloud, Minn. Worked as a department manager at Sears; now employed as a detention deputy at the Hennepin County Jail.

State Representative, District 14A, 1993-2003; Mayor, 1991-1992, City of St. Joseph; City Council Member, 1974-1990, City of St. Joseph.

(WHY) I am ready, willing and able. I am the only candidate who has served as a state representative, a mayor and a city council member. I know, from experience, the importance and value of working together, as one, to represent you.

(PRI) Safety, in my mind is the most important aspect. My focus will be on helping to maintain the quality of our present public safety personal, equipment and facilities while working together with city, county, state, and federal government leaders to improve where possible the safe feeling we all deserve.

(ECON) I want our county to begin looking into itself, not as a funding source but as a life giving force. We need to begin to lay out a 30 year plan and use this plan as a guide post to maintain control of our resources. Taxpayers have legs and brains and will not tolerate uncontrolled spending. When it comes to conflicting needs I would use common sense in my decisions and treat people fairly.

(ENV) First of all I would want to see an environmental impact study done on any major economic development project. When it comes to protecting our environment for the benefit of our children, there is no question, the children win. We are blessed by the prior decisions made to preserve land for parks, wildlife preserves and recreation. I would follow their path. Properly sited commercial development helps us all pay for this beauty.

Linda Higgins

A.A. Iowa Lakes Community College, Estherville, Iowa; B.S. Mankato State College; Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Boston, Senior Executives in State and Local Government.

Administrative analyst, City of Minneapolis; Council Assistant to Minneapolis City Council; Small business owner; writer; editor; proofreader; designer. Editor/writer at publishing/ graphics companies including McGraw-Hill Publications, Control Data Corporation, Modern Medicine Publications, Strafford Publications.

Minnesota State Senator, District 58, North and Downtown Minneapolis, 1997 to Present.

(WHY) I would like to continue my public service, but in a different role. Having worked with the county on many difficult, challenging issues, I can continue to be an effective advocate for District 2 residents. I am a problem solver and bridge builder. I have strong relationships with residents and elected officials throughout Hennepin.

(PRI) Setting the operating and capital budget is the major role of county commissioners. How we provide services for those most in need is largely determined by the budget. Setting the budget at a level that provides essential services but is also mindful of the wallets of the people who pay the taxes is important to all.

(ECON) The senate district I have represented for 16 years is full of diverse needs and people of all incomes. Hennepin County provides public safety, builds infrastructure—including transportation and transit—and assists vulnerable citizens. It provides parks and libraries, administers elections, and addresses human needs. People expect government to mind the bottom line but still provide essential services effectively.

(ENV) Polluting development is short-term thinking. Environmentally friendly development will always be the best long-term decision.

Tonia Johnson

Roosevelt High School, Minneapolis; Irvine High School, Irvine, California; Bachelors of Arts degree in Communications/Education Psychology from Howard University, Washington, D.C.; double masters in nonprofit management and public administration from Hamline University; mini MBA from the University of St. Thomas.

Business development consultant, Minneapolis Charter Commissioner, nonprofit manager, government relations, corporate asset manager,policy aide to Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein.

(WHY) I want to serve as Hennepin County commissioner because it offers a wonderful opportunity to do what I enjoy the most and that’s serving people. This includes creating policies that will improve the quality of life for our most valuable Hennepin County resources—children, youth, seniors, and the disabled; creating policies that will strengthen the value of our neighborhoods and communities by investing wisely in our infrastructure; and creating policies that will reduce the 68-percent dependency on county services to 40-percent.

(PRI) The top priority for Hennepin County government is to provide efficient stewardship by overseeing and managing public money responsibly. This includes ensuring that the services provided and used are improving the quality of life, promoting self-sufficiency and creating new opportunities for development and growth.

(ECON) I have been fortunate that my career includes working with a diversity of people from all different social and economic backgrounds; also, I’ve already worked in the office of the Hennepin County Commissioner, this included working with the diversity of district 2. In achieving balance, it requires setting priorities throughout the district and going out to the many neighborhood meetings and listening to the residents and being honest about what you can and can’t do. Even though there is diversity there are many issues that affect all of us: safety, accessible public transportation, environment, quality roads and bridges, good schools for our children, extended library hours and many others.

(ENV) Conservation and protection of our natural resources is one of my top priorities. While economic development and business retention is important for our district, what can’t be compromised is the environment. Hennepin County must set guidelines and work with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other environmental agencies and organizations to help in setting safety standards that mitigate the amount of pollution that impacts our air quality, river, and lakes.

Kathleen Murdock

Hopkins Lindbergh High School, Minnetonka, Minn.; B.A. Psychology, Augsburg College, Minneapolis, Minn; master’s of social work administration, policy and Organization, University of Minnesota. Interned at Harrison Open School in North Minneapolis and the South Hennepin Human Services Council.

33 years with Hennepin County in administrative, policy and planning roles.

Plymouth City Council member 2007-2011

(WHY) After devoting my career to Hennepin County government, I am passionate about the services it provides. I can hit the ground running as I know the organization, the people and the issues. I will represent the entire district and have a proven track record for listening to my constituents.

(PRI) Keeping property taxes down and delivering essential services in the most cost-effective manner. This means building new innovative partnerships with community agencies and businesses and implementing new technologies. Having worked in the county and currently serving on the Capital Budget Task Force, I already have ideas for streamlining services.

(ECON) Families throughout this district are facing economic challenges. There is frustration with unemployment, declining property values and increasing property taxes. As a Plymouth council member we partnered with Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners in their move to Plymouth. The demand for their services which includes a food shelf, affordable housing, Hennepin County social services and job training continues to grow. I would work to hold down county spending in order to keep property taxes low.

(ENV) The County Board plays an important role in water management by working with the watershed districts and managing the sewage treatment system processes for all of district two. I will promote the pollution reduction water projects that are in progress and encourage collaboration with other entities. Economic development is also vital to the health of Hennepin County, but should not jeopardize water quality or the safety of residents. Industry must comply with existing permit processes.

Paula Pentel

Minneapolis North High; Augsburg College, B.A. urban studies, University of Minnesota M.A. geography.

Market planner for Citibank/Citicorp, Golden Valley Montessori (past president) Hollywood Studio of Dance (past president), planning commission for the City of Golden Valley (1991-2004). University of Minnesota coordinator of Urban Studies Program in Geography Department. Academic advisor for all urban studies majors and minors (approximately 120 students). West Broadway Business and Area Coalition since 2003 (past president).

City Council Member, City of Golden Valley, since 2004. Elected in 2005 and 2009.

(WHY) The mission of the county to act in a “respectful, efficient and fiscally responsible way” is how I conduct myself as an elected official. I understand the work of the county and have the background, interest and personal attributes to balance the needs of this district.

(PRI) I believe the health and safety of the residents should be the top priority for the county. As the provider of safety net services for county residents, the county needs to prioritize budgeting to assure those needs are met while also continuing to invest in building projects and infrastructure.

(ECON) As someone who grew up poor, I know that respect, inclusion and responsiveness to needs goes a long way in helping people to feel validated. I interact with people of differing economic means on a daily basis. Balancing needs must take social and economic justice into consideration. I believe in using need and justice as tools for assessing programs, projects and expenditures. Balance is important and listening is key.

(ENV) The County must be accountable for the local effects of its own actions. As decisions are made on garbage burning levels at the HERC or locating layover areas for trains, an environmental justice lens should be used to assure that the benefits and burdens of those types of decisions are considered in a way that does not disadvantage or hinder the success of communities. Preserving and restoring open space and natural areas improves lives.

Blong Yang

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)—BA; University of Minnesota Law School—JD. Equal Justice Works Fellow/ Staff Attorney—Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis; Solo Practitioner—Blong Yang, Attorney at Law; Investigator—Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights.

(WHY) I want to make government work more efficiently and effectively for the well-being of everyday residents. I am tired of seeing career politicians playing musical chairs with political offices. It is time for a fresh voice, bold vision, and new leadership. District 2 deserves more and it deserves better.

(PRI) Planning for the future. By 2040, more than 20 percent of the county will be seniors and more than 40 percent will be people of color. We need to make responsible and hard decisions so that our delivery of services is efficient and effective in meeting the needs of our changing demographic.

(ECON) I represented low-income persons at Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis and as a solo practitioner. As an investigator at the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, I served people of differing economic means. The residents of District 2, rich or poor, are in this together. We all have an interest in the well-being of each other. We will have to share in the sacrifice to make Hennepin County a great place to live and work.

(ENV) Both environmental protection and economic development should be priorities for the county. However, if there was a conflict between the two, the county should protect the environment first. The county must weigh the environmental impact of every economic development opportunity. After a thorough cost-benefit analysis, economic development should only be approved if its benefits outweigh the impact on the environment.

Candidates Rolf Erickson and Roger Smithrud did not respond to NorthNews’ request for information.