Crime of the season

One of the more catty pieces of political literature this campaign season has been making the rounds for the last week or so. It's got nothing to do with Klobuchar v. Kennedy, Pawlenty v. Hatch, or even Bachmann v. Wetterling. Instead, it comes from a relatively apolitical corner of the public service universe known as the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

In that race, Juan Lopez, a former Bloomington cop and current corrections administrator, is taking on Rich Stanek, the longtime MPD cop who has also served in the state House and had an aborted stint as Minnesota's Public Safety commissioner. DFLer Lopez and Stanek, a Republican, are vying for the seat being vacated by Pat McGowan.

All was relatively quiet between the two, even up to the primary, where Stanek captured 43 percent of the vote to Lopez's 24 percent. But afterward, the attacks began in the form of a press release from a group called the Hennepin County Sheriff's Deputies Association (or--unwieldy acronym alert--HCSDA).

The missive, which lists HCSDA president Pat Denman as a contact, notes that the association issued a "no confidence" vote in candidate Lopez. Further, the statement went on to claim that "Lopez is not a licensed peace officer."

"Has he ever answered a 911 call or walked down an alley alone as a peace officer, supervised a shift or managed an agency budget?" the lit quotes Denman as asking. "He simply is not qualified to lead the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

"Bottom line is," Denman concludes, "he is not a cop."

When reached by phone, Lopez calmly assails the press release as "a feeble attempt to distract from my opponent's actual record." "The guy who wrote it is Stanek's boy," he offers.

Fair enough, but is Lopez a cop?

"I have a peace officer's license in this state that is currently not active," he says. "But I have been in law enforcement and I have been in corrections."

Lopez, who will soon turn 50 and lives in Bloomington, explains that he was on the Bloomington force from August 2001 to December 2001. "I resigned for family issues," he explains.

A month later, he took a job with Hennepin County, working in the county jail, doing a stint as a human resources recruiter, and eventually working as a juvenile probation officer.

Lopez, who ran for the sheriff's position four years ago and garnered 102,000 votes, senses a little desperation coming from Stanek backers. "He's spent $100,000 and I've spend $5,000," Lopez notes. "And I'm still in the race."

As for law enforcement bona fides, Lopez counters that he has "been in a shootout and held at gun point." But mostly, he says, such experiences don't matter much to running the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. "Sheriff is an administrative position," Lopez concludes. "I can guarantee the sheriff has not made an arrest in the last 12 years."

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