Weighing candidates’ ‘cool factor’

Mpls. mayoral contenders say they don’t feel pressure to be like R.T. Rybak.

Conservation biology junior Jamee Snyder, College Democrats member Andrea Whitaker and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak play in a moon bounce Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, during Voterpalooza on Northrop Plaza.

Daily File Photo, Mark Vancleave

Conservation biology junior Jamee Snyder, College Democrats member Andrea Whitaker and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak play in a moon bounce Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, during Voterpalooza on Northrop Plaza.

Alexi Gusso

Mayor R.T. Rybak, known for crowd surfing at First Avenue, wearing mismatched socks and visiting local breweries, isn’t seeking a fourth term, and his successors aren’t striving to mirror his persona.

Some mayoral candidates think their policies alone should set them apart, and they generally agreed they don’t feel pressured to follow in Rybak’s eccentric footsteps.

“R.T. has a way of connecting with people. He’s very personable. He likes to jump off the stage and dance and hug and carry on,” said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs. 

In the game of cool, Jacobs said the new batch of 35 mayoral candidates is losing.

He said the candidates may “feel the pressure” to mirror Rybak’s energy, but “there’s not a lot of capacity” among them for quirkiness.

“This is a pretty uncool set of candidates,” Jacobs said. “We’ve got a lot of policy wonks in the group.”

Mayoral hopeful and small business owner Stephanie Woodruff said her campaign appeals to the younger crowd because she’s relatable on multiple levels, especially with the LGBT community.

“[Young people] come up to me and thank me for being in the race and for keeping it real,” she said.

Mayoral candidate Bob Fine, an attorney and the city’s Park and Recreation Board commissioner, said his goal is to promote his campaign — not his
coolness.

“There are candidates who are trying to mirror [Rybak],” Fine said. “I’m not trying to mirror Rybak. I’m trying to mirror myself.”

Fine said if elected, he would reduce property taxes, which would make the city “more competitive” by spurring job and economic development.

“I hope that will directly affect people who are younger and are having difficulty finding jobs,” he said.

Jackie Cherryhomes, former City Council president and current small business owner, agreed and said she doesn’t feel pressure to duplicate
Rybak’s persona.

“I don’t feel any need to be R.T. Rybak,” she said. “I think everybody comes with their own sets of skills and abilities.”

Cherryhomes said she would rather point students and young people to her campaign platform, and specifically her focus on creating jobs.

“My goal is to ensure that we create living-wage, good-paying jobs for folks in our city and that we have a variety of employment opportunities,” she said.

Independent candidate Cam Winton said his style of politics, which he describes as “fiscally responsible and socially inclusive,” will stand alone to attract young voters.

Winton, senior counsel at a wind turbine company, said he would focus on reducing property taxes and creating new employment opportunities to keep students in the city after they graduate.

“We need to make sure that Minneapolis works for people in every chapter of their lives,” he said.

Winton said that if he’s elected, he would stay away from imitating Rybak’s infamous stage dive.

“While I do have the silver fox look of R.T. — I’m rocking some gray hair at my temples — I would never try to do his stage diving thing because that’s R.T.’s thing,” he said.

Jacobs, who admits he’s not the best judge, said the candidates may have an “inner cool” that hasn’t been visible yet.

“There is a bit of a competition to claim the mantle of R.T. Rybak,” he said. “He’s been a relatively popular mayor.”

University business and marketing and political science junior Leah Chaney said students aren’t always preoccupied with a candidate’s “likability.”

“There are definitely students who don’t vote for the right reasons. People vote for who appears likable … but I think it’s important to pay attention to policy,” Cheney said.

Candidates agreed that the city’s current mayor helped make it a “hip” town that’s attractive to young people.

Woodruff, who’s been endorsed by the Minnesota Independence Party and has never held political office, said she knows the city and is “literally always out” on the town, frequenting wine bars and artists’ studios.

“I like to be spontaneous,” she said.

Winton said he spends his weekend nights at home with his family.

“I read a story to my kids and get to sleep as soon as I can because I know they’ll be up at 5:30 in the morning,” he said. “I wish it sounded cooler.”