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Obama's shout-out to Minneapolis was unexpected

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN
  • Star Tribune
  • February 26, 2009 - 10:04 PM

When President Barack Obama mentioned in his economic recovery speech Tuesday that the plan would let the City of Lakes save 57 cop jobs, Mayor R.T. Rybak said he fell off his chair.

It's not that Rybak hasn't had Obama's ear since he became one of the first major city mayors to endorse Obama's candidacy nearly two years ago. In the past two months, Rybak has been part of a select group of mayors that met with top Obama advisers.

At the meetings, Rybak said, he stressed the need for more flexible and accessible federal funding for public safety. In a January meeting, Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, and Larry Summers, the White House's top economic adviser, wanted Rybak to assure them that the extra funding, would equate to jobs.

"Emanuel said that all our butts are on the line,'' Rybak recalled. "We have to make sure every dollar spent creates a job."

When Rybak learned of the state allocation cuts, he struggled to shuffle his 2009 budget to close a $6.5 million gap for public safety. He calculated 57 officers might be cut. In his budget speech Monday, Rybak talked about how Obama's recovery plan, would keep all the officers on the street.

The White House noted the 57 saved jobs on its blog. Then Rybak's staff started to receive calls from White House staff to verify the details of how the plan would preserve jobs.

In his speech before Congress the next day, Obama said, "Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make."

"I had no idea whatsoever that the president was going to mention Minneapolis," Rybak said. "I was super excited."

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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