Rybak wins a third term, but charter changes rejected

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2009 - 2:06 PM

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Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak coasted to an easy victory Tuesday night to gain a third term in his corner third-floor office at City Hall.

Rybak got almost three times more first-choice votes than his 10 challengers combined. With all the precincts reporting, he had more than 70 percent of first-choice votes, while his nearest rival barely exceeded 10 percent.

But voters also lopsidedly slapped down the charter amendment to overhaul the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) -- a measure that was backed by Rybak and a majority of the City Council.

Rybak ran a low-profile campaign against 10 even lower-profile challengers in his first bid for election with DFL endorsement. He said Tuesday night that he expects to say in a couple months whether he'll formally declare himself a contender in a crowded field of DFLers who want to be governor.

In the mayor's race, Papa John Kolstad, with Republican and Independent party backing, ran a distant second.

In the most vigorously debated contest on the city ballot, voters soundly rejected a charter proposal to revamp the BET by shifting its financial powers to the City Council. That was designed to increase accountability for taxing decisions, supporters said.

But voters heeded the arguments of opponents that the power to set the maximum levy, borrow and oversee internal audits should be shared by the mayor, council, Park Board and two directly elected board members.

Incumbent Carol Becker easily lapped the six-person field to win reelection to the BET, where she often serves as a counterweight to City Hall orthodoxy. Rybak could take consolation that the candidate he backed with a last-minute blitz of calls, David Wheeler, was running second. But election officials will need to turn to voters' second choices to determine who claims the second seat, a process expected to take weeks.

Some well-known incumbents didn't poll high enough on first-choice votes to claim victory, meaning second choices will tip the balance. City Council President Barb Johnson said her counts showed she gained just under half of first-choice votes in the Fourth Ward, with Troy Parker running second. Fifth Ward incumbent Don Samuels was in similar shape, with the woman he ousted in 2005, Natalie Johnson Lee, running second.

In the 10th Ward race to succeed Ralph Remington, Meg Tuthill said she'd amassed more than 70 percent of first-choice votes. "It's about roots and community," she said, claiming victory. Kevin Reich led in the First Ward race to fill Paul Ostrow's seat, and John Quincy was far ahead in the 11th Ward race to follow Scott Benson.

In a closely watched race for three city-wide Park Board seats, Annie Young and Bob Fine were running well ahead, with John Erwin leading Mary Merrill Anderson for the third seat. But no one so far has hit the threshold for winning, meaning second choices again will settle the winners. The race had five candidates who served as park commissioners.

Voters stayed away from the polls in droves, with turnouts down markedly from 2005, when two prominent DFLers, Rybak and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, battled for the office. Some blamed the lack of a prominent opponent for Rybak, some blamed news coverage, and still others said some voters shied away from the new voting scheme.

The Park Board contest also featured six district races with the potential to transform the reins of power on the board. The outcome could determine how long Jon Gurban remains superintendent, although his contract may be extended today by the lame-duck board.

Incumbent Carol Kummer ran slightly of Jason Stone, with Steve Barland trailing in the Nokomis-area district. On the East Side, Liz Wielinski, a founder of Minneapolis Park Watch, was leading to succeed Walt Dziedzic. Anita Tabb was unopposed in the Cedar-Isles district, where Tracy Nordstrom stepped down, while incumbent Scott Vreeland was ahead in a district southeast of downtown. Incumbent Jon Olson was leading Michael Guest in a North Side district. Newcomer Brad Bourn was ahead in southwest Minneapolis.

The new council and mayor will face the challenges of trying to maintain city services in the face of state aid cuts and burgeoning pension bills, while deciding how to split a tax-increment yield among property tax relief, neighborhood revitalization and Target Center debt.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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