Mayor debate keys on money

Mayoral candidates debated in front of approximately 500 people Wednesday.

Matt Graham

The two Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidates for mayor of Minneapolis met Wednesday for their only debate before the Democratic caucuses March 1.

Mayor R.T. Rybak and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin spoke in front of approximately 500 people at Washburn High School in a debate moderated by National Public Radio’s Kerri Miller.

Rybak emphasized his fiscally sound record as mayor, while McLaughlin said his experience at the State Legislature would ease the city’s financial constraints.

“We need a mayor who can marshal the forces (at the Legislature) on our behalf,” McLaughlin said. “We have to use the connections we have to help get resources in the city.”

McLaughlin called public schools “the single biggest issue facing our city.”

“The achievement gap in communities of color is appalling,” he said.

McLaughlin said he is devoted to the community.

“I’ve devoted my entire adult life to public service,” he said.

Rybak stood by his fiscal record, saying he would raise taxes if necessary.

“There’s no free lunch,”

Rybak said on several occasions.

“In Minneapolis, we’re honest about our taxes,” he said. “I’m not going to go back to Ö shoving debt under the carpet.”

Rybak said his business background helps him with keeping a balanced budget.

“I’ve also been in the business world,” he said. “That experience has served me well.”

Both candidates expressed concern at state policies placing the tax burden on working families.

“The biggest problem is the way the tax burden has been shifted from the commercial to the private sector,” Rybak said.

Both candidates also said they want to work with the University to create jobs.

“You’ve got to hook up with the University of Minnesota, because they are a great job engine,” McLaughlin said.

Some people in the audience said they were not happy with Rybak’s first-term performance.

Don Davis worked on Rybak’s first campaign, but now, he says he supports McLaughlin.

“He’s kind of trying to hide some things from the public,” Davis said. “Some people are calling him ‘Mayor Me.’

“A lot of people in the Legislature don’t care for R.T. Maybe we need a fresh face.”

But Rybak’s supporters say he is committed to the people.

“I’ve worked on a lot of these campaigns,” Alex Cutler said. “I see R.T. everywhere; he’s really been out there. He’s a real honest guy.”

But Cutler said he doesn’t dislike McLaughlin.

“I’d much rather see them work together,” he said.

Rybak echoed Cutler’s sentiment.

“I think that Commissioner McLaughlin has done a great job at the county board, and I think that we should both keep our jobs,” Rybak said.