R.T. Rybak entered Boston College knowing, he says, “what I wanted
to be—the mayor of Minneapolis.” But even a few years ago, practically
nobody in Minneapolis suspected that would come to pass. Then, in
2001, the former alternative-newspaper publisher and Internet consultant
rocked the city’s political landscape by handily defeating the incumbent
mayor. Outspent nearly two to one by his opponent, Rybak campaigned
with an agenda focused on affordable housing, environmental planning,
and the redesign of such basic services as snow removal and the
issuing of city permits. Since his election, Rybak has maintained
his grass-roots energy and accessibility. His home number is listed
in the phone book.
For most of a recent Friday, Rybak’s schedule was as typical as
it gets: a morning meeting with the city’s representatives in the
state legislature; a city council session on the current housing
shortage; discussions with representatives of Minneapolis’s sizeable
American Indian population dissatisfied with the quality of police
protection in their neighborhoods; dinner with the NAACP. Then came
word that an 11-year-old girl had died after a stray bullet lodged
in her chest as she sat at her dining room table doing homework.
Rybak rushed to the hospital and announced the girl’s death to the
press. Two days later, he hosted her grieving family at his house.
His children, ages 13 and 11, spent time with the victim’s siblings.
Rybak says his mayoral training began decades ago, during trips
from his childhood home in a bucolic south Minneapolis neighborhood
to his father’s drugstore in the inner city. He reluctantly put
off his ambition as an adult, when he realized how hard the mayor’s
job would be on his wife and young children. “Nobody who runs for
office is pro-family, because running for office is a terrible thing
to do to your family,” he once said.
Since the election, Rybak has discovered that being mayor is good
for his family. He’s home nearly every night for dinner and
his children’s bedtime. And his kids often accompany him to
events, including, recently, a feast in his honor sponsored by the
city’s Somali community, and a Latino summit. “The office,”
he says, “has given my family the chance to be a part of something
a lot bigger than just the four of us.”
Jack El-Hai is a writer who lives in Minneapolis.
Photo: Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak. Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis,
Office of the Mayor