Rybak pledges action on campaign funding, housing

Tim Sturrock

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of The Minnesota Daily’s profiles on each of Minneapolis’ mayoral candidates. Mayoral candidate R.T. Rybak, 45, paints himself as a political newcomer who knows how the city works.

“I walk in knowing where the bodies are buried but not being one of the corpses,” Rybak said of Minneapolis city government.

In the last 20 years, Rybak worked in a number of positions: Star Tribune development reporter in the early 1980s, development director for the Downtown Council, activist, and publisher of the Twin Cities Reader.

He said all experiences taught him how to rally the people of Minneapolis and be an effective leader despite the city’s weak mayoral system.

Rybak, a lifelong Minneapolis resident, said affordable housing is the city’s most crushing need.

Part of Rybak’s plan is to name a housing czar to coordinate housing plans. He hopes to solve the housing crisis with private investment by relaxing zoning laws and by using tax incentives.

“There will have to be city dollars spent on that as well as county and state dollars,” Rybak said.

Mark Stenglein, an independent mayoral candidate, called the promises of candidates like Rybak unrealistic.

“Minneapolis has got 60 square miles; it’s going to be impossible to build all the housing needed within the tax base of Minneapolis,” Stenglein said.

Rybak said he hopes fees on registration of deeds, reshaping of the city’s bureaucracy and fewer corporate subsidies will help keep taxes down.

He said he believes the $62 million city subsidy to Target and the Block E project are unnecessary wastes of taxpayer money.

“I know what it takes to build a downtown, and I know it doesn’t take massive subsidies to a few lucky corporations and developers,” Rybak said. “I will bring businesses to Minneapolis with my salesmanship, not the public checkbook.”

Rybak said his experience as development director for the Downtown Council will help in this area.

Also on his list of goals is shifting tax priorities from business subsidies to basic city services like garbage pick-up and plowing.

The Sierra Club-endorsed candidate also wants to ban the use of phosphorous fertilizers that feed algae in ponds, lakes and rivers. Rybak, founder of Residents Opposed to Airport Racket, also wants to reduce the noise from airplanes.

Rybak’s said his role as an activist and other jobs helped at the DFL city convention in May. The first-time candidate didn’t win enough votes for the DFL endorsement but managed to receive more votes than Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.

Although he said he was pleasantly surprised, the convention results didn’t shock him.

“We knew for a while we were in much better shape than we were being given credit for,” Rybak said.

“The biggest question is, can a person who is not a politician, who is being outspent four or five to one, win this election?” he said.

Rybak said he isn’t taking any corporate or political action committee money so his hands won’t be tied when he gets into office.

This falls in line with another of Rybak’s priorities – making city politicians reveal sources of campaign funding, thus improving trust in city hall. He said he also wants to follow St. Paul’s lead on racial profiling.

Removing the mayor’s parking space from the front of city hall would also send a better message, he said.

He plans to replace it with a bike rack.

“It’s symbolic,” he said. “There’s no quick fix for transportation,” Rybak added, though he does want to improve amenities for bike and bus riders.

Rybak said he often sweats his way to work, riding his bike from his home on Dupont Ave.

“I think a mayor should sweat; it’s a tough job,” he said.