Stumping for Obama and running a city

When Mayor R.T. Rybak was selected as a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee in September, he said his new gig would be a hobby. Some people fish and play golf, he said, but his pastime would be helping re-elect President Barack Obama.

A look at his schedule spanning six weeks in December and January reveals that Rybak still spends most of his working days doing the city’s business, but he has also spent a sizeable chunk of his time in Iowa and New Hampshire acting as an Obama surrogate during the Republican primary race.

From Dec. 1 through Jan. 10, Rybak spent 17 days working on city business. Depending on how you look at it, there were 20 or 25 regular working days during that time span. Rybak’s office says 20, because the City Council is pretty much shut down from Dec. 26–30.

He spent seven days out of state on DNC duty during that span, making trips to Iowa, Las Vegas and New Hampshire. Those stops involved interviews with cable news outlets, responses to Republican appearances and meetings with Obama supporters. One of those days was a Saturday and two of them were during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, a slow times for city decision makers.

Rybak’s spokesman, John Stiles, said the DNC pays for all of the mayor’s expenses during his DNC-related travel. Rybak generally takes only one vacation every year, a summer getaway to northern Minnesota, Stiles said.

During most of his days, he’s booked start to finish with meetings, interviews and events. Four times he has worked 10 hours in a day, including 13 hours the day the city budget was adopted. Rybak also makes frequent appearances at weekend events.

His life was unfortunately made busier when his niece died in early January. Rybak took time off to be with his family and attend her funeral.

His schedule shows that he’s been spending a good portion of his time on a Vikings stadium proposal, including five meetings with legislators or his staff to discuss a Minneapolis site and funding plan.

Even when he’s away on DNC work, Rybak is still doing city business. He is in regular email, text message and phone contact with his office, Stiles said.

On Dec. 28, Rybak responded to Facebook posts from people concerned about violence on the North Side following the stray bullet that killed 3-year-old Terrell Mayes. Rybak flew to Des Moines the next day, but made it back for a vigil for Mayes on Dec. 31.

When DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz selected Rybak for his post as an Obama surrogate, she heralded him for being a strong voice for mayors and said “Mayor Rybak’s energy and enthusiasm are unparalleled.”

On Nov. 22, Rybak visited with Obama supporters in Iowa City.

Liberal Iowa blogger Paul Deaton attended the meeting, and said Rybak impressed many of the roughly 45 supporters.

Deaton, 60, has been involved in politics for nearly 50 years, beginning when he volunteered for Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign at age 11. Living in an early caucus state, Deaton’s heard a lot of big-name politicians speak.  

“The guy, his enthusiasm is contagious,” Deaton said. “I’ve seen a lot of politicians in the last year or so. He stands out.”