By Steve Brandt
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak announced Thursday that he’s calling it quits after three terms and 12 years in office, throwing the 2013 mayor’s race open to at least four credible contenders who have expressed interest in the job.
Rybak revealed his intentions at a press conference at Midtown Global Market on Lake Street, one of the symbols of his efforts to revitalize the city.
In a statement posted on his blog, Rybak hailed the creation of jobs, safer streets and neighborhood revitalization, but also said " doing this job in the way I’ve chosen to do it involves some personal sacrifices, and right now, I owe it to those around me, and to myself, to get a bit more balance in my life. I also think that after 12 years, the city will benefit from a fresh perspective."
“The greatest professional job I could have is to serve my hometown,” Rybak said at Thursday's announcement. “It’s tough for me to walk away.”
Council Member Betsy Hodges. who had hinged her candidacy on Rybak dropping out, announced Thursday that she's running for mayor. Another Council Member, Gary Schiff, had said he was considering a run either way and would declare his intent next month. Also strongly considering a bid is Hussein Samatar, whose 2010 election to the school board made him the state’s first Somali-born elected official. Former Council President Jackie Cherry home is mulling a political comeback for mayor.
Since he first won election in 2001, Rybak has raised the profile of the office and become one of the state's most recognizable political figures. He became an avid cheerleader for local causes, an agile politician who steers the City Council his way and a force in national Democratic politics. Once a critic of subsidies for sports teams, Rybak engineered a razor thin 7-6 vote on the City Council earlier this year to use city tax money to build a new football stadium for the Vikings and renovate Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves.
In the past, Rybak put his reputation on the line to promote quality-of-life projects that sometimes became lightning rods for his critics, such as bike lanes and artist-designed water fountains. The city he inherited lacked the deep pockets of the past, so he has often played the role of enthusiastic idea man behind outside ventures: bike sharing, the City of Lakes Loppet, a cooperative workspace in an abandoned grain trading floor.
Rybak ran on a base of neighborhood activism to oust predecessor Sharon Sayles Belton in 2001, riding a wave of public discontent with large public subsidies for development projects. He won handily a hard-fought reelection bid in 2005 against Peter McLaughlin, and coasted to an easy win against 10 lightly funded contenders in 2009, amassing almost three-quarters of votes cast.
He’s been a peripatetic figure around the city, from crowd-surfing at clubs to more somber appearances at funerals for slain youths.
But his most lasting contribution may well be returning City Hall to a firmer financial footing after the freer-spending Sayles Belton-Cherryhomes days. The city paid down enough debt to regain a top credit rating lost under Sayles Belton and won legislation to put the city’s pension funds on more stable footing.
Rybak also scored a big win over an old airport noise foe when he led the city into a lawsuit whose settlement forced the Metropolitan Airports Commission to pay for noise insulation packages for thousands more homes in the city and nearby suburbs.
Rybak strove to close the gap between the North Side and the rest of the city, but the twin devastation of a wave of foreclosures and the 2011 tornado undermined those efforts. Yet his strong emphasis on job training helped to close the city’s job gap with the rest of the metro area, a rarity among American cities.