Johnathan Judd hadn’t considered running for mayor of Moorhead until his predecessor, Del Rae Williams, encouraged him.
That nudge was rewarded when voters elected Judd mayor in 2018. His term would have expired in 2022, but Judd was recently appointed to serve as a judge on Minnesota’s Seventh Judicial District, which extends from Mille Lacs in east-central Minnesota to Moorhead.
Judd’s tenure as mayor was brief but it also was eventful.
Noteworthy achievements during his time in office include a new redevelopment plan for downtown, including the struggling Moorhead Center Mall, and funding to build the new railroad underpass near Moorhead High School and planning for another downtown railroad underpass — projects that will greatly improve traffic flows and safety.
There’s a sense that Moorhead has momentum and is making progress in business development and new housing, and Judd had a hand in that as mayor.
His tenure also was historic. Judd was the first Black person to be elected to the city’s highest office. Judd’s leadership style was calibrated to meet the situation. He could be low-key, but when the situation demanded it, he made his voice heard. He didn’t ballyhoo his place in the city’s history, but understood that he represented a group that for too long had been excluded from the mainstream.
His even-tempered style was vividly on display during the turmoil last year following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who suffocated when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck despite his pleas for mercy, an outrage that sparked protests around the country, including Fargo.
Judd was a calming voice and presence during that time, but he also didn’t flinch from saying what needed to be said: that institutional racism is real and must be confronted. Besides the civil unrest, he had to confront a pandemic and the more mundane challenges that go with the territory, including floods and blizzards.
Before becoming mayor, Judd had served as an assistant Clay County attorney and as a public defender, so had the perspective of both a prosecutor and defense lawyer. He also served as the director of equity and inclusion at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead and an adjunct instructor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
He’s missed at City Hall, where his fellow City Council members gave him a heartfelt sendoff. "You leave huge shoes to fill," a tearful Shelly Carlson told Judd before the council moved to appoint her as his successor.
Judd clearly will be missed in Moorhead. But he brings a wealth of public service and life experiences to the bench that will serve him well as a judge. We wish him well in carrying out justice.