Mayor Rybak chairing state campaign committee for Obama

Mayor R.T. Rybak was on the Barack Obama bandwagon before it even started moving. Now he chairs — on a volunteer basis — a campaign committee for the presidential candidate.

Days before his political hero was scheduled to make an appearance at the Target Center, the mayor talked to the Southwest Journal about his support for the Illinois senator and how he plans to spend Super Tuesday.

Obama spoke to thousands of supporters at a rally at the Target Center on Feb. 2.

SWJ: You chair the Obama for Minnesota State Leadership Committee. How did you get that job?

Volunteer job.

Actually, the Obama campaign began before Obama entered. I was part of a group of people primarily from Southwest Minneapolis who were trying to convince him there was enough grassroots support to enter the race.

I met Barack Obama two years ago, and … the first thing out of my mouth was, “You should run for president.” And I continued to encourage that, so the second he announced, I was ready to go. And he called me, and I told him that I would put as much of my free time as I possibly could into it because I believe that he’ll make a great president.

SWJ: And what made you tell him that he should run for president?

I’ve been looking for a long time for a candidate who could reflect my progressive values in a way that also brought people together. I grew up in Southwest Minneapolis when it was one of the most Republican parts of the state, and now it’s one of the most Democratic parts of the state. The irony is that the people there aren’t that different. They are primarily people who care about others, who want … government to be fair and open, and they want to get things done. I think Barack Obama can appeal to the people I grew up with as Republicans in Southwest Minneapolis and the people I now live with who are Democrats because he’s able to listen and bring people together. We desperately need that in a deeply divided country.

SWJ: So what does volunteering and leading the committee involve?

Rybak: It means that in the few hours that I have — the spare time I have — I’m working on the Obama campaign. But it’s a labor of love at this point. And so is my family. It’s kind of funny. My son came home from college for Christmas, and I told my family, “Good news — we’re going south after New Year’s. Bad news is it’s Des Moines.” We had a tremendous time campaigning in Iowa because I would go into a small town in Iowa or just … door-knock in a residential neighborhood in Mason City or Des Moines or stand out with my signs at the caucuses. My family and I just felt we were part of history. And it’s really a blessing to be part of that in Minnesota, too. Minnesota has never mattered that much in a presidential race until this year. And it’s great to be part of that.

SWJ: How do you plan to spend Super Tuesday?

Well, I’m already spending a lot of time campaigning at night and on weekends, including we had all the Obama organizers over for dinner the other night, which was fun because it’s sort of a lot of young energy. We have one organizer living in our basement. And this weekend, I’ll be spending time … helping to get people to the Obama rally at Target Center. I’ll spend caucus day like I spend most election days, which is trying to grab as many people as possible and get them to the polls.

SWJ: Is your role on this leadership committee a sign that you might seek higher office yourself someday?

Rybak: Absolutely not. No.

I really love the idea of being a mayor in Barack Obama’s America. But regardless of whatever I wind up doing, I’ve been working on campaigns for years trying to find that one leader that I think can really break through and get elected and inspire people.

I think I’ve found it, and I think America has, too. That’s an end in itself.

Brady Gervais can be reached at [email protected] or 436-4373.