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Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was surrounded by family members Thursday as he said he would step down after three terms.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Next Minneapolis mayor will inherit challenges

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • December 29, 2012 - 10:47 PM

Steering the redevelopment of downtown's east side. Negotiating a Target Center renovation. Trying to regain lost state aid. Rebuilding streets. Changing the police culture. Addressing the city's racial employment gap.

Those are some of the challenges facing the next mayor of Minneapolis, now that R.T. Rybak has announced he won't run next year after a dozen years in office. A growing number of candidates are lining up for the job, which will pay about $103,000 annually, to lead a city of nearly 400,000 people.

That winner will first need to address the unprecedented challenge for a Minneapolis mayoral candidate: accumulating the most votes in the first highly competitive race using ranked-choice voting.

"Rybak may need to stay in office while they count the votes," said Brian Rice, a politically active lobbyist and lawyer.

Council Member Betsy Hodges and former Council President Jackie Cherryhomes have declared their candidacies. Council Members Gary Schiff and Don Samuels, school board member Hussein Samatar, theater executive Tom Hoch and Park Commissioner Bob Fine say they're considering a run.

On Thursday, Rybak himself sketched out an agenda for the next year that may well outlast him, including police department reform, reducing gun and youth violence, reducing the achievement gap in schools, expanding youth opportunities, assisting North Side redevelopment and renovating Target Center.

Hodges and Schiff are veterans at shaping the city budget while Fine has voted on park budgets and city levies. Fine said he'd cut taxes and preserve core services. Hodges said overseeing budget approval gave her a firsthand knowledge of the city. Schiff is considered a zoning and land-use expert.

Budget strains

The next mayor will need to keep the strained city budget solvent. Although Rybak made considerable progress in paying off accumulated internal and outside debt and put pension costs on a more stable footing, pressures remain.

One will be the expiration of a two-year wage freeze that's bound to prompt demands from city employees for catchup increases. That will come as a public backlash has forced City Hall to throttle back property tax increases that more than doubled the city's levy collections during Rybak's three terms. There's also the new reality of state aid payments that are $20 million or more a year less than what state law authorized but the state couldn't afford.

While that's happening, the city will be scrambling to assemble capital to prime development around the new Vikings stadium, both public improvements and potentially subsidies for developers who want to remake the area with new housing or offices. The new mayor may also inherit the job of negotiating the cost split for renovation of Target Center made possible by the stadium deal.

Development is nothing new to Hoch, a former city development project manager, or Samatar, whose nonprofit helps finance small businesses. Cherryhomes engineered some controversial development deals during her tenure.

But those development dollars also will be needed to help the remaking the city's 38-acre upper riverfront, where conversion of a city dock and storage area is gaining momentum as a key place to start redeveloping the river corridor. Money is needed to clean soil, build streets and install trails to link new housing or commercial uses with the rest of the city. Another key area that will require potentially heavy aid to recycle polluted soil is the Bassett Creek Valley, where developer Ryan Cos. holds first rights to make a proposal. Some help may also be sought by developer Sherman Associates if it proposes redevelopment that reopens Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street, a key change needed for a proposed streetcar down Nicollet.

That is just one of several transportation projects affecting the city that could require a local share, whether financed by the city or Hennepin County or beyond. That list includes completion of the Southwest light-rail corridor, the Bottineau rail or bus line to the northwest, and new connections between Lake Street and Interstate 35W.

The next mayor also needs to lay out a plan to address the problem of the city's streets deteriorating faster than they are repaved, despite increased paving investment under Rybak.

Changing population

But many of the challenges the new mayor faces involve people, not projects. The city the next mayor inherits will be vastly different than the one Rybak was sworn to serve. Roughly one in seven city residents people was born abroad. The city's racial disparities in employment and income remain among the highest in the nation, especially for American-born blacks and American Indians.

Samuels is a Jamaican immigrant, and Samatar is the first Somali-American elected official.

"If I do campaign, you will be seeing me campaigning in Spanish," Samatar said.

Other candidates will count on their deeper roots. "It's been my home forever," Cherryhomes said. "I could provide strong leadership."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib

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