Shortly before voting results came in, not wanting to get ahead of himself, R.T. Rybak told a group of reporters, “I’ll be around.”
Rybak will be around. For the next four years the community activist will serve as mayor of Minneapolis.
“This is what change is all about,” Rybak told more than 500 supporters Tuesday night. “And you are all making it.”
The Ukrainian Event Center in northeast Minneapolis bulged with Rybak fans of all ages, shouting, laughing and dancing to the sounds of a five-piece swing band.
Rybak won with nearly 65 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, took home 35 percent.
Some of Rybak’s first words were those of gratitude for the mayor.
“This city owes a tremendous debt to Sharon Sayles Belton,” Rybak said.
At Sayles Belton’s camp, the scene was bittersweet as she prepared to step down from her eight-year post while celebrating the success of her term.
“I don’t want anyone to be sad,” Sayles Belton said. “We’ve done good work here.”
She said her accomplishments include ensuring safety in the city, creating more affordable housing and creating a thriving economy.
Approximately 200 staff members, friends, family and supporters
greeted Sayles Belton with chants of, “We love Sharon; thank you Sharon.”
Before speaking, Sayles Belton said she called Rybak to congratulate him on the win and is committed to helping make his transition into office as smooth as possible come January.
“We’re still on a quest of building a great city to serve all of Minneapolis,” Sayles Belton said. “We still have contributions we need to make so we can stay on the right path.”
Never before elected to public office, Rybak surprised many throughout his campaign for Minneapolis mayor.
He had more DFL delegates on his side in May than his opponent, though neither was endorsed at the convention.
He remained neck and neck with the mayor throughout the campaign, while raising about half as much money.
Whittled down in the primary election from a record-breaking 22 candidates, the mayor’s race became a face-off between the Internet consultant and the incumbent.
Though the candidates remained on friendly terms throughout the race, heated exchanges often marked the season’s debates.
Sayles Belton faulted Rybak for what she said is a lack of experience, while Rybak called for a “re-opening” of City Hall.
Among the issues that repeatedly surfaced during their campaigns was the lack of affordable housing in Minneapolis, which the Rybak said is one of the first things he will attack as mayor.
Sayles Belton is expected to take some time off to be with her family, said campaign spokesman Randy Schubring. He said he’s certain she’ll be back in the political spotlight at some point.
“No matter what happens, I know she will go and have a bright future,” said Ann Freeman, a Sayles Belton spokeswoman. “She’s an enormously talented woman.”