Rybak answers challengers who say 'anyone but him'by Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak faces 10 challengers on the ballot tomorrow for his office at city hall and many of Rybak's opponents are critical of the mayor on several issues, especially his record of raising property taxes as well as for not meeting face-to-face with the other candidates during the campaign.
On Monday, the day before the election, one of those candidates got his wish.
Mayor R.T. Rybak and Papa John Kolstad appeared together on MPR's Midday program in a rare face-to-face meeting. They were chosen from the field of 11 candidates, because both Rybak and Kolstad have been endorsed by major parties. Rybak has the DFL bid and Kolstad was the pick of the Minneapolis Republican Party and the Independence Party.
Kolstad is the president of a local music distribution company and a working musician. One of the issues he wanted to address was the state of small, independent businesses in the city. Kolstad disagreed with Rybak's assertion that the city has improved the conditions for small business.
"I wish that what he is saying was true, but that's not what I'm seeing as a business person," Kolstad said. "East Lake Street looks like Detroit during the '70s. It's almost vacant places halfway up and down the street in that area. So, things are not going well in the city. You can't have jobs unless you have businesses there."
Kolstad said if elected mayor, he would push to create an empowerment zone that would nurture locally owned businesses with a focus on environmentally 'green' products.
Rybak said he's championed programs that have done a lot for small businesses. The Great Streets Initiative provided loans to companies, such as the Seward Co-op which recently opened an expanded store on Franklin Avenue.
Rybak said the city has become a safer place to live since he became mayor eight years ago. He cited one of the key reasons was a focus on reducing youth crime.
"We launched a youth violence prevention initiative that people around the country have said is one of the best they've seen," Rybak said. "Because what's important about it is, it was a partnership. Our police and every person in this community came together and juvenile crime is down 43 percent."
As Rybak and Kolstad faced off at MPR studios in St. Paul, a group of four other candidates gathered in Minneapolis near city hall.
Dick Franson, John Charles Wilson, Bill McGaughey and Bob Carney Jr. took some time Monday to sing a medley of songs, including a tune directly criticizing Rybak with lyrics set to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Bob Carney read a statement on behalf of all the challengers.
"For mayor, we recommend someone other than Mayor Rybak," Carney said. "We believe there are highly qualified and capable challengers on the ballot."
Carney also encouraged people to write in names if they didn't want to pick one of the other challengers. He said voters can block Rybak's re-election bid under the city's new voting system.
Instant runoff voting allows people to rank their first, second and third choices -- that is if enough people don't pick Rybak as their first choice. Carney considers himself a moderate-progressive Republican. But like non-moderate or progressive members of the GOP, he's concerned with government spending.
"I would like to know why it costs $500 million a year more on this side of the river to have city government," he said. "I think this is something that we need to take a look at, and when you don't have competition, that's one of the problems."
The New Dignity Party's candidate for mayor is Bill McGaughey. The party is also running a candidate for park board and the board of estimate and taxation. McGaughey became known by city staffers and elected officials in the mid '90s when he and a group of property owners began protesting the demolition of buildings deemed by the city to be problem properties.
McGaughey said he's still concerned about the issue.
"I think we need a better relationship between police and property owners, so that they jointly look at the problem," McGaughey said. "Both the police and the property owners and the neighbors are concerned about crime. But you can't point the finger at the building or the building owner and say that's what caused it."
Minneapolis mayoral candidate John Charles Wilson has a political philosophy that defies categories. Wilson believes in principles that borrow from a Libertarian view - namely that people should have the personal freedom to ingest whatever substances they choose. But he said he's also kind of a communist.
"I believe that the city needs to look at alternative revenue sources, such as municipal ownership of profitable businesses, starting with a charter amendment to allow the city to take over Xcel Energy," Wilson said. "That way, when you pay your electric bill, you'd be helping to keep property taxes down rather than make Xcel Energy rich."
Some of the candidates have run for the office before. Dick Franson has been on the ballot frequently ever since his time as an alderman in the 1960s. Franson is a DFLer and a retired Army 1st Sgt. This is Franson's fifth try for mayor, and he's challenging Rybak primarily because of the constant rise in property taxes.
"That's really going to hurt the senior citizens as well as most of the other middle class people for taxes; 11.2 [percent] added on to 5 percent county, 5 percent state?" Franson said. "Home owners taxes are going to be raised 21 percent in the year 2010. We do not need this present city council and Mayor Rybak. They have got to go."
One of Mayor Rybak's most outspoken critics, Al Flowers, recently told residents at a neighborhood forum that he's concerned about poverty, and police accountability. He said under Rybak the city has paid out too much money to settle lawsuits over alleged police misconduct.
"That's part of the reason people's property taxes are going up; it ought to be addressed," Flowers said. "We've been trying to get a debate but when you don't have the money or the big Democratic backing, you can't get these issues on the table. So I'm glad the mayor's here today so, at least we can say this. These are some issues of concern right now."
A spokesperson for the mayor has said Rybak made as many as a dozen appearances at forums early on his campaign. However, Rybak has made just a handful of joint appearances with other candidates since the full field of challengers was finalized after the filing deadline in July.
MPR called the other four mayoral candidates, Tom Fiske, Joey Lombard, James Everett and Christopher Clarke but none returned calls.