Controversy surrounds Rybak endorsement

Brett Angel

The Police Federation of Minneapolis endorsed independent business consultant R.T. Rybak for mayor Monday, prompting incumbent Sharon Sayles Belton to question the union’s motives.

Randy Schubring, a spokesman for Sayles Belton, said the police union asked her whether she would fire police Chief Robert Olson if re-elected. Schubring said he thought Rybak was endorsed because he complied with the union’s agenda and the mayor would not.

“What the endorsing group … wanted was for her to make a deal to oust the police chief and she wouldn’t do that,” Schubring said. The mayor was in Boston and Detroit on Tuesday.

Sgt. John Delmonico, federation president, said the union never requested either candidate promise to fire Olson. He said the union supported Rybak for his business experience and ability to repair broken communication lines.

“We were impressed with R.T.’s leadership skills,” Delmonico said. “He is real big on labor and management working together to make decisions and get things done.”

Delmonico said he has been unhappy with how the mayor has dealt with issues important to the police department, including police-community relations and what he considers poor fiscal management.

“I did express some dissatisfaction with things that were being done,” Delmonico said. “I think she assumed that therefore (the federation and Rybak) cut a deal.”

Rybak also refuted any claims of deal-making, saying it was “absolutely inaccurate” and “extremely reckless” to accuse the union of having pressured him to agree to fire Olson.

“I don’t believe political candidates should make any commitment in union screenings about negotiating issues such as wages and benefits, nor should they discuss what they will do with different managers,” Rybak said.

A 10-member board of federation officials met separately with both candidates before making the endorsement.

In addition to the Police Federation’s endorsement, Rybak has won the approval of the Minneapolis Professional Employees Association, as well as the support of five current City Council members, several state senators and representatives and other local officials.

Among Sayles Belton’s endorsers are former Minneapolis mayor Don Fraser, former Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Minnesota Trade and Economic Development commissioner Rebecca Yanisch. The Service Employees Union joined her list of supporters Tuesday, and Sunday, Hadassah Lieberman – the wife of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. – came to Minneapolis to hold a fund-raiser for Sayles Belton.