Mayor vows graffiti fight, more cash for roads

Mayor R.T. Rybak’s April 27 State of the City speech hinted at two 2005 budget

initiatives: more money for roads and graffiti removal.

He also touted success in jobs and affordable housing and staked out a mayoral role in upcoming school closing debates.

"Graffiti cleanup is an area where I believe we have a long way to go," the mayor said, speaking in the City Hall rotunda. "As you look at the budget process this year, know that my eyes are very much focused on the fact that there is far too much graffiti in this city, and we have not done a good enough job coordinating our efforts."

Rybak liberally sprinkled his speech with thank-yous to key players in various city initiatives, and credited Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) for efforts to shorten the time it takes for graffiti cleanup. Yet he said the city needed to do a better job on graffiti through the housing inspections and solid waste programs.

The mayor also said the city needed more money in basic infrastructure.

The city has focused on protecting the Police and Fire Departments’ budgets as it absorbed significant state aid cuts in the past two years. That left the Public Works budget to take the biggest hits, in some cases eliminating routine maintenance.

"I believe we’ve sacrificed Public Works and Transportation more than anything," Rybak said. "So look for us to continue to look that challenge in the eye as we move forward on the budget."

The mayor announced a $40 million Northside housing rehabilitation program, talked about the new Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and applauded Kingfield neighborhood efforts to overcome affordable housing obstacles.

The Kingfield initiative "is saying we can have affordable housing in our neighborhoods and concentrate on commercial corridors if it is the vision of the neighborhood," he said. "On Nicollet Avenue,

you see neighbors from Kingfield and many surrounding neighborhoods coming up with an innovative vision for Nicollet that would include housing at all levels. It’s a great plan."

The mayor said the schools faced major decisions in the coming months: picking a new superintendent and trying to cope with significant state aid cuts. As mayor, he did not oversee schools, but he said he would play two roles.

The first is to recognize the importance of schools to communities and to continue to push for community involvement in school closing talks. The second is to stand behind the School Board and the Superintendent "as they make some of the toughest choices that have had to be made in the city in many, many years," he said.

"I believe that the citizens of Minneapolis are ready for an honest, tough, innovative discussion about the future of our schools. The one thing they are not prepared to do is to stand back and do nothing," he said.

The mayor sidestepped crime issues in the speech, saying he soon would give a speech on the city’s summer crime strategy.