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Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak. Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis, Office of the Mayor

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

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

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