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Ramsay elected St. Louis County sheriff

The former Duluth police chief defeated Undersheriff Jason Lukovsky in the office's first contested election in 20 years.

Gordon Ramsay laughing while talking to a friend
Gordon Ramsay, candidate for St. Louis County Sheriff, right, speaks with Ron DeGrio, a chairperson with his campaign, at Ramsay's home in Duluth on Tuesday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Gordon Ramsay left his hometown nearly seven years ago to pursue a new career challenge in an unfamiliar state.

On Tuesday, the former Duluth police chief received a warm welcome home from St. Louis County voters, who elected him as their first new sheriff in two decades.

Ramsay defeated Undersheriff Jason Lukovsky by a margin of 49.82%-40.26%, according to unofficial results Wednesday from the Secretary of State.

Another 9.93% went to write-in candidates — the bulk presumably for part-time Moose Lake police officer and local gun shop owner Chad Walsh, who maintained an active campaign after losing the August primary.

Ramsay will succeed Ross Litman, who was first elected in 2002 and never faced a challenger in any of his four reelection bids.

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Gordon Ramsay
Gordon Ramsay, candidate for St. Louis County Sheriff, looks at his television set while sitting on a couch at his home in Duluth Tuesday evening.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"It is heartwarming, and I am very appreciative that the people have believed in me and given their vote," Ramsay told the News Tribune early Wednesday from his Lester Park home, where he gathered with family and a handful of volunteers to watch results.

"Thirty-eight thousand miles I put on my truck campaigning in St. Louis County, and it has been very rewarding; it has been great to meet people from all corners of the county. In 29 years of law enforcement work, I've always avoided politics. I've learned so much and it's been a life-changing experience for me."

While he faced an internal candidate who enjoyed the support of the outgoing sheriff and the deputies' union, Ramsay said he has no qualms about stepping into leadership of an agency in which he has never served — as he did in Wichita, Kansas, in 2016.

"There will be a lot of listening and learning," he said, "and I think building relationships — figuring out how you're all going to work together is critical for the success of the organization. One thing that everybody involved wants to see is for this organization to thrive, do well, and provide good public safety to the residents of the county."

Jason Lukovsky and Gordon Ramsay sat down with the News Tribune to explain why they're the right choice in this fall's rare opening for the county's chief law enforcement officer.

Lukovsky and Ramsay, both 50 years old and Duluth natives, each campaigned on their extensive law enforcement experience in the Northland as they sought the approval of voters as the best candidate to address issues including community relations, staffing shortages, drug and mental health response, and collaborative crime-fighting across a county that includes more than a dozen independent police departments.

Ramsay, an East High School graduate, worked his way up the ranks of his hometown police department and spent nearly a decade as a highly visible police chief. He implemented one of the nation's first body-camera initiatives, paired social workers with officers, oversaw the move to a new headquarters and helped create the Citizen Review Board.

Ramsay left in 2016 to take the reins of the Wichita Police Department, overseeing an agency roughly four times the size of Duluth's. He touted his efforts to diversity the force, and reduced rates of robberies and burglaries to levels not seen in several decades before stepping down earlier this year to return to Duluth and be closer to family.

people talking with candiadates
St. Louis County sheriff candidate Jason Lukovsky, from left, talks with Tim Rust and his wife, Betsy Peters Rust, both of Fredenburg Township, at Mr. D’s Bar and Grill in Duluth on Tuesday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Lukovsky, a Denfeld High School graduate who lives in Fredenberg Township, has spent his entire 24-year career in the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office. While acknowledging that he lacked Ramsay's name recognition and experience as head of two law enforcement agencies, he contended that his decades of hands-on work in every corner of the office made him the most qualified person for the job.

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Lukovsky worked his way up the ranks as a deputy, sniper on the tactical team, investigator, sergeant, lieutenant, supervisor of the 911 dispatch center and, most recently, as No. 2 in command when Litman promoted him to undersheriff last year. He has been involved in implementing technology such as drones and body cameras, played a role in the Clarity Project for mental health and addiction treatment, and serves on a county equity and diversity initiative.

Local gun store operator Chad Walsh will continue on with a write-in campaign.

While the two candidates advocated for many similar positions and maintained largely positive messaging through months of campaigning and numerous forums, endorsements were a clear dividing line in the race.

Lukovsky prominently featured the endorsement of his boss, Litman, on the front of his website, and noted he had the support of the union representing county deputies. Even the two unions representing officers, investigators, sergeants and lieutenants at the Duluth Police Department — Ramsay's longtime home — threw their support behind his opponent.

But Ramsay touted his support across a broad coalition, including the Iron Range Chiefs of Police Association and numerous current and former police chiefs and mayors throughout the county. Seeking unity between Duluth and more sparsely populated areas of a county that is larger than some states, he made it a central campaign promise to hold twice-monthly meetings with Range law enforcement officials.

Ramsay led the way in the August primary with 40% of the vote, while Lukovsky advanced with 33% — a difference of about 2,500 votes. Walsh was eliminated with 26% of the tally, but filed notice the next day to have his write-in votes counted.

The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office has a $36 million budget for 2022 and includes roughly 280 employees who work in administration, patrol, investigations, civil/warrants and court security divisions.

The sheriff's responsibilities include general law enforcement duties; 911 dispatch for the entire county; emergency planning and response; processing and serving of warrants and court documents; security at courthouses in Duluth, Virginia and Hibbing; and operation of a 197-bed jail and two temporary lock-up facilities.

This story was last updated at 8:39 a.m. Nov. 9 with unofficial results from all precincts. It was originally posted at 11:21 p.m. Nov. 8.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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