Twin Cities primary election votes are counted

by Shira Kantor

After months of campaigning, R.T. Rybak and Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton have emerged from Tuesday’s primary election as the two mayoral candidates who will advance to the general election Nov. 6.

The two other major candidates, City Council Member Lisa McDonald and Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, came in third and fourth, respectively.

What attention citizens did pay to the race was heavily deflected when terrorist attacks left the World Trade Center in New York and part of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., demolished Tuesday.

Nevertheless, polling stations remained open in Minneapolis and at least some constituents cast their votes.

Rybak placed first, garnering about 34 percent of the vote, while incumbent Sayles Belton took about 27 percent.

This is Rybak’s first run for public office, though he has been active in community groups for several years.

Rybak, a lifelong resident of Minneapolis, said he wants to take City Hall and make this the “great city it deserves to be.

“I was born in a great city and I want to die in a great city,” Rybak said.

Rybak entered his campaign headquarters among friends and family and a rowdy atmosphere created by supporters of all ages.

“I have a complex web of emotions on the most tragic of nights,” Rybak said. “Our city stands ready for a change and the people of Minneapolis have spoken.”

“One of the messages that is clear in the wake of this tragedy is that people came together,” he said. “We need to build community and reestablish the connections that make Minneapolis great.”

Rybak also took time to not only thank those who helped in his campaign but also to thank fellow candidates Lisa McDonald and Mark Stenglein.

He said he and Stenglein have become good friends throughout the campaign, and he has developed a respect for how Stenglein looks at the city.

Megan O’Hara, Rybak’s wife of nearly 15 years, said she is confident Rybak will be a good addition to the mayor’s office if he is elected in November.

“I think (R.T.) will be a great salesperson for the city,” O’Hara said. “I think there will be a lot of energy and a lot of forward movement from here on.”

For Sayles Belton, the victory brings her a step closer to securing her third term as Minneapolis mayor.

Chants of “Sharon, Sharon” greeted the mayor as she entered her post-election celebration. She answered with words of confidence and encouragement.

“We’ve demonstrated that we can do this and we will do it again, ladies and gentlemen,” Sayles Belton shouted.

She promised to invest in public schools, children, affordable housing and to work toward eliminating poverty.

Sayles Belton’s spokesperson, Randy Schubring, said supporters are undaunted by the mayor’s second place to Rybak.

“I don’t think the city wants an on-the-job trainee,” Schubring said of Rybak. “With R.T. Rybak you get a lot of flash.”

The mayor also addressed the terrorist attacks, asking her supporters to bow their heads in a moment of silence for victims of the tragedy.

“We need to pray for peace, we need to work for peace, we need to pray for calm,” she said. “The world in front of us changed today.”

McDonald, who will leave her post as the 10th Ward City Council representative next year, said though she was disappointed not to advance, after the day’s horrific events, “losing an election seems inconsequential.”

She blinked back tears as she thanked her supporters, but ended her speech on a positive note.

“As for me, life has never been better,” she said. “I had a great job for the past eight years and I’ll have it for four more months.”

And McDonald kept her options open for the future.

“Who knows?” she said. “There might be another political campaign out there.”

Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein gathered the least amount of votes of the four candidates.

At his campaign party at his home in northeast Minneapolis, he conceded defeat.

“Clearly the tragedy of New York overshadowed the municipal primaries in Minneapolis,” Stenglein said. “It’s obviously a disappointment.”