In late stages of blowout win, incumbent mayor helped Southwest allies win Council seats
Calling it a victory for positive campaigning, Mayor R.T. Rybak defeated challenger Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin 61 percent to 37 percent.
Rybak received 43,198 votes to McLaughlin's 25,807. The mayor captured 72 percent of the vote in Southwest, his home base, winning every precinct there. However, he also won 56 percent of the vote in the rest of the city and carried every ward in McLaughlin's South Minneapolis County Commissioner district. Of the city's 13 wards, McLaughlin prevailed in only two, wards 4 and 5 in North Minneapolis.
The only thing that dampened Rybak's romp was poor turnout - just 31 percent of registered voters turned out to vote, compared to 41 percent in his first campaign in 2001 and 46 percent in 1997.
Still, the mayor was crowing at his election-night celebration. Referring to McLaughlin's relentless hammering on rising crime rates and police staffing cuts, Rybak termed his win “a resounding defeat for negative campaigning. It was a bad night for old-style campaigning.”
Rybak took particular aim at the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, saying months of attack ads backfired and turned off voters.
The Federation ran “Anyone but Rybak” radio ads prior to the Sept. 13 primary and its President John Delmonico said then in a news release that parts of Minneapolis, “have crime and lawlessness approaching [that of] New Orleans,” referring to the post-Katrina chaos.
The Federation's endorsements may have hurt candidates more than it helped, Rybak said. He suggested it hurt Cara Letofsky, a police-endorsed DFLer who narrowly lost the University-area Ward 2 race to Green Party candidate Cam Gordon, 2,481 to 2,340. The Federation also endorsed Lisa McDonald, who lost in Southwest's Ward 13 to Betsy Hodges and Marie Hauser, who lost to Elizabeth Glidden in Kingfield-area Ward 8.
“The Police Federation tipped the balance - but not the way they hoped,” Rybak said.
In a postelection interview, Delmonico had no regrets about the Federation's approach and continued to criticize Rybak, whom he said “turned his nose to public safety.”
Delmonico called the Federation's strategy “a huge success” because it made public safety the top campaign issue. “I feel we played a big part in bringing the awareness out,” he said.
Delmonico noted that four of seven Federation-endorsed Council candidates won: Uptown-area Councilmember-elect Ralph Remington (Ward 10) as well as Northeast Minneapolis's Diane Hofstede (Ward 3), the North Side's Barb Johnson (Ward 4) and Sandy Colvin Roy (Ward 12) in the city's Southeast corner. Delmonico said the city would increase public safety spending in 2006 because of the pressure the 2005 campaign brought to bear.
(The mayor's reelection bid received a huge boost this summer from the State Legislature. It reversed the trend of Local Government Aid cuts and gave Minneapolis an increase next year, a major reason the mayor could propose adding 71 police jobs in his 2006 budget.)
Meanwhile, Rybak endorsed seven Council candidates, and all of them won: Council President and Northeast Councilmember Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), Johnson, North side incumbent Don Samuels (5th Ward), longtime downtown/Southwest Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Glidden, Southwest-area incumbent Scott Benson (11th Ward) and Hodges.
Challenges remain the same
In a short election-night speech to supporters, Rybak said: “The hard work is beginning and so is the fun,” shortly before body surfing on the crowd's outstretched hands.
Some of the mayor's upcoming challenges will include the issue of steadily rising property taxes. The city's current financial plans project an 8 percent overall property tax increase in future years. If the policy holds, the city's share of property taxes will increase 36 percent by the end of the mayor's next term, sure to rankle many homeowners.
Rybak has said he would like to reduce the hikes, yet the city still faces unpredictable state funding. He successfully campaigned on paying down city debt and creating long-term financial plans.
As part of that policy, the city has stuck to a 2 percent annual wage cap. The move has allowed the administration and City Council to minimize staff cuts - but sparked a labor stampede that helped fuel the McLaughlin campaign. McLaughlin had strong union backing, including from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 - whose leadership said the wage cap was a big reason they got involved in the race.
The wage issue won't go away. A recent flap with electrical inspectors could be a harbinger of things to come. The 10-member unit of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers worked without a contract since April 2004, fighting the 2 percent cap. The Council recently voted to abolish the unit and use state-licensed inspectors instead. The union has taken a good faith bargaining challaenge to court.
City parks and libraries will also be looking for more money. Reelected Library Board members Rod Krueger and Laurie Savran attended the Rybak reelection party. Krueger, the current president, said if the Library Board finances didn't improve, it would have to close community libraries.
Savran said she was lobbying Rybak for more library money at the election party. “We need to get our fair share of the city budget,” she said. “I am going to talk to R.T. every day.”
Rybak was instrumental in helping fund-raisers secure $15 million for the new Downtown Central Library, set to open in May. That money will not fund operations at any city library, however.
New Council takes shape
The new City Council will have five new faces, and Rybak seemed buoyed by the results. Many Councilmembers-elect found their way to the mayor's party at the Ukrainian Hall on election night.
Rybak got a “Hey, brother” bear hug from Remington, who won the open 10th Ward seat over Scott Persons. The incumbent, Dan Niziolek, has criticized Rybak for inadequate police funding and endorsed Persons.
Peter Wagenius, a mayoral aide and strategist, said the Rybak campaign made a last-minute push to help Glidden. The mayor's campaign did an autumn mailing to Ward 8 Rybak supporters who were undecided on the Council race, he said. The mayor himself made phone calls. The campaign did an election-eve literature drop in high turnout ward precincts, stating Rybak's support for Glidden.
Council President Paul Ostrow said election results show voters “affirmed the direction of the city.”
However, Ostrow himself is expected to have a challenge for Council leadership. Potential candidates include Johnson and Council Vice President Robert Lilligren, who won a 46-vote squeaker over fellow incumbent Dean Zimmermann in Ward 6.
At the Rybak party, the 11th Ward's Benson responded, “we'll see,” when asked if he was interested in running for Council president. Goodman gave an emphatic “no,” saying, “I don't want to herd cats any more than I have to.”
Benson said he and most Councilmembers who won the election support Rybak but added it was hard to say if the new Council would be more Rybak-friendly. In 2002, Rybak took office with seven new Councilmembers; this election brings only five newcomers.
“The Council will be more assertive,” Benson said. “We have more folks returning this time around. People are more comfortable in their roles.”
Some Councilmembers were catching their breath, while others were making plans. Some were doing both.
Remington said he planned on “taking a rest and getting to work - in that order.”
Glidden talked about organizing a communications plan and possibly setting up a temporary office at the Sabathani Center, 310 E. 38th St. “People are already asking, ‘What can I do?'” she said.
In his victory speech, Rybak sketched out a few goals, echoing campaign trail themes. He touted work to redevelop the Sears site at Chicago Avenue and Lake Street and said: “Now, let's do Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis.”
He touted the planned conversion of the Riverside coal plant to natural gas and planned mass-transit improvements on I-35W, adding, “We won't stop until we are the number one sustainable city in the United States.”