After RNC, Fletcher and Bostrom spar again in sheriff's raceby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — When Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and challenger Matt Bostrom face off in Tuesday's election, it won't be the first time they've dueled.
Bostrom, an assistant police chief in St. Paul, was the architect of the city's security plan during the Republican National Convention in 2008, while Fletcher led an investigation into a self-described anarchist group known as the RNC Welcoming Committee.
The two men clashed on how to protect the public from the chaos that would erupt on the streets of St. Paul, and two very different leadership styles emerged.
As the security chief for the RNC, Bostrom was in Fletcher's crosshairs, even though the convention took place long before Bostrom decided to run for sheriff. Fletcher criticized the city's security plan -- and made sure to document his every gripe in a series of letters to Bostrom first obtained by MPR News two years ago.
"Matt's primary role was to recruit officers around the country, and frankly, he procrastinated, and put off that recruitment effort until the last month," Fletcher said in an interview this week.
Fletcher also blamed Bostrom for placing officers in full riot gear along a mostly peaceful march through downtown. The sight chilled St. Paulites accustomed to seeing their local cops in soft blues. Anti-war protesters said Bostrom lied when he assured them that St. Paul would not become a police state.
But Bostrom said he made the call to increase riot gear for his officers after weighing what he now considers overly hyped-up alerts from Fletcher.
"He was the guy that was leading the charge, saying, 'Look at all the nasty stuff people are going to be throwing at you, and Matt Bostrom is going to let you stand on the corner without your protective gear on,'" Bostrom said.
He said the sheriff went rogue during the RNC, and did his own investigations and kicked down doors as part of house raids leading up to the convention.
Bostrom said the sheriff's department was out of step with 114 other agencies who worked with the St. Paul Police Department, which was the lead local entity.
"There was one person that was not involved in unified command, and that was the sheriff. I really don't know what he was doing," Bostrom said. "I've heard him tell stories about him driving around in his car on Sept. 1 reporting people running through the streets of St. Paul."
But Fletcher stands by his actions, and says St. Paul police were on board with the pre-convention raids. He notes that five members of group known as the RNC Welcoming Committee have pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to riot or damage property.
Fletcher said one of the most controversial actions during the RNC, a mass arrest on a bridge over Interstate 94, was not his call. All 323 cases were eventually dropped.
"What happened on the bridge, you'd have to talk to the St. Paul police department," he said at a recent press conference after the final four defendants of the so-called "RNC 8" pleaded guilty.
But the sheriff remains the public figure most associated with overzealous law enforcement.
Many of the peace demonstrators who once called Bostrom a liar are now publicly supporting him.
Bostrom said he's sorry he didn't prepare the public for the level of security needed for the event, but he thinks he knows how he's been able to win over his critics.
"People sense that I'm telling the truth, because I am telling the truth. And I want to be characterized by constant improvement, to learn from the things we've done in the past, take responsibility in the areas that didn't go well, and make sure I don't make the same mistakes in the future," he said.
Bostrom, who holds a doctorate's degree in public administration, has 28 years of law enforcement experience, and is the son of veteran city councilman, has secured endorsements from a small army of city leaders, the DFL Party, and even some prominent Republicans.
Bostrom said he wants to restore trust in the sheriff's office, especially after a scandal that led to the dismantling of the Metro Gang Strike Force. Fletcher, whose office was the fiscal agent for the force, says his department's role was limited, and that he didn't know that officers were illegally seizing property.
But Bostrom doesn't find that plausible.
"He's well-aware of what's going on, and he's intentional about having people in the position they're in, because they carry out things the way he wants them to carry out," he said.
Controversy has followed Fletcher, a former St. Paul police officer who has been sheriff for the past 16 years.
His past term is arguably the most contentious to date. Two of his former employees, including a friend who was the best man at Fletcher's wedding, are serving time for pocketing money during an FBI sting.
Asked if he should be held accountable, Fletcher said he should -- but added that he wanted to be judged on the strengths of his department, too.
"Ultimately the buck stops at the top," he said. "Regarding this incident, they should have not put the money in their pocket, and they paid the price."
Some say Fletcher made enemies because of his lone-wolf style, and because he falls outside the St. Paul DFL establishment. He was the Republican-endorsed candidate for the St. Paul City Council in 1982, but does not claim any party affiliation today. He relishes his reputation as an independent.
"I try to do the right thing. Sometimes the right thing isn't what keeps politicians, or city council members, or commissioners happy," he said. "I work for the public, and by working for the public, I can decide what's best for the public."
Fletcher's campaigning prowess is formidable. He's the clear winner in fund-raising between the two candidates, and says major crimes in the county have decreased under his watch.
Despite all the controversy surrounding him, it hasn't stopped Ramsey County voters from re-electing him four terms in a row. They'll decide Tuesday whether he deserves a fifth.
- Morning Edition, 10/28/2010, 7:45 a.m.