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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Former Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett dies

Tony Bennett, a former Ramsey County Commissioner who forged bipartisan agreements and played a key role in the county-wide unification of 911 emergency dispatch as well as the purchase of surplus military land in Arden Hills, has passed away. He was 82.

Bennett’s career included time spent as a St. Paul police officer, a U.S. marshal, and a state senator before he was chosen to serve on the county board in 1996. He held the position until 2012, when he lost in a four-way political contest mostly due to his unsuccessful attempts to bring a $1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium to Arden Hills.

Trista MatasCastillo, the county board’s chair, made the announcement about Bennett’s passing on Tuesday during a county board meeting.

Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt addressed the board and stated, “He was genuinely a terrific person and full of life, always up to some fantastic mischief, trying to get the transaction done.” You simply sort of held your breath if you were in a car with Tony since he was familiar with St. Paul and understood how to get there quickly.

In addition to Johnson High School, St. Thomas College, and the University of Minnesota, Bennett was born on March 11, 1940, in St. Paul. He also held elected office in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1983 to 1990 and from 1971 to 1974, in addition to his work in police enforcement. He resided in Shoreview and represented Arden Hills and the northern suburbs of the county while serving on the county board.

In order to convince the county to buy the 427-acre Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills from the federal government, Bennett, a moderate Republican, formed strong coalitions with people on all sides of the political spectrum. After years of futile attempts to pique the private sector’s interest in light of environmental concerns, the site has languished. A year after Bennett left office, in 2013, the county completed its acquisition.

Jim McDonough, a county commissioner, remarked that “he loved to bargain.” “You couldn’t always get him to talk about policy, but if you could engage him in conversation about the transaction, you had him interested. Together, we produced a lot of excellent work. I phoned Tony whenever I needed a deal because I knew he could close it.

The TCAAP property’s development plans have been stalled for years due to a legal battle between the city and county over infrastructure expenditures. The land has now been cleaned up to residential standards and renamed Rice Creek Commons.

Bennett was also in favor of the Ramsey County-St. Paul 911 communications center, which became operational in 2007 following lengthy financial discussions between the county’s suburban cities and the city.

Chris Coleman, who was the mayor of St. Paul at the time, and the city council fiercely opposed a plan to impose a half-cent sales tax in Ramsey County to pay for a new Vikings football stadium in Arden Hills in 2011.

The Vikings arranged an agreement with Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota to build U.S. Bank Stadium on the same site as the former Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which led to the failure of the proposal, which Bennett and colleague Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega vigorously pushed.

Tony was a character, to put it mildly, Ortega said, telling the county board on Wednesday that he had been in touch with Bennett’s family throughout the course of the last two weeks of his life. “He was about three times as big as I was, he was a Republican and I was the Democrat, and we clashed like crazy, so the press did a story about us and named us the strange couple. He was a lot of fun when we went on excursions. He always drove like a police officer.

Pat, his wife, and Chris, Steve, and Pam, his three children, are Bennett’s only surviving relatives.

Services will be made public later.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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