Introducing RTR3

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has some pretty savvy staying power. I decided to find out why.
March 03, 2009

There may be a new daily dietary supplement on the streets of Minneapolis sooner than you think. It’s called RTR3. Similar to its parent vitamin, RTR2, it provides order, control, and reassurance in most aspects of our day-to-day lives. Taking RTR3 may cause you to participate in gay pride parades, crowd-surf at First Avenue or even walk around in your pajamas at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. People who take RTR3 may be members of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party, drive hybrid cars and be in possession of mesmerizing blue eyes.
RTR stands for our Minneapolis mayor, Raymond Thompson Rybak Jr., of course, and the “3” denotes his recently announced campaign for a third term as mayor. I have not lived in Minneapolis long enough to give an educated assessment of his accomplishments or failures as mayor, but I did have the opportunity to sit down with him in a personal interview recently, and I am more than happy to vouch for the caliber of his character.
There is something to be said about the “presence” of an individual, a quality that you can’t quite put your finger on but of which you are keenly aware. I felt this sensation the moment Rybak walked into the room; he exuded a sincerity and confidence that glittered from his demeanor all the way down to his tie selection. It is easy to say that politicians are trained to convey that image for a living, but I have also met our past President George W. Bush in close quarters and felt nothing of the same energy. Is it because I’m liberal? I don’t know. Is it because he’s male and in a position of power? Please. I’m not that kinky. Regardless, I have an incorrigible curiosity for those who find themselves in leadership positions and can muster substantial staying power; Rybak certainly fits that bill. Beyond his third term, there are whispers of a bid for governor in 2010 and quite frankly, I don’t see why not. He’s just as dead-on as Jesse Ventura but delivers a significantly kinder handshake.
Rybak has been quoted that he knew he wanted to become mayor by the time he was 13 years old. Personally, I’m jealous. When I was 13, my primary focus was still color-coordinating my braces to compliment the upcoming holiday or homecoming event. Seriously, where did he get that kind of ambition? Do they grow it on a farm somewhere in south-central Minnesota? Was he exposed to some superhuman radiation field as a child?
Rybak stressed that despite his youthful certainty for mayor, he knew that the process wasn’t going to be easy. “I believe that we have ‘bodies of work’ instead of a single career now,” he said. “I did a lot of things before I became mayor. I was an activist, a journalist, an Internet pioneer, I worked for public radio. My passion was always centered on people, however. People always ask me, ‘How can you handle work with so many different people day after day?’ It’s not a chore for me — it’s what I love. I love working with people.”
Rybak added, “I think we are like mice working our way through a maze. We’re running around, bumping into walls, trying different paths here and there until we find something that works for us. It’s not easy, but the reward is being able to do what you’re passionate about.
“For example, I worked as a journalist before I became mayor,” Rybak continued. “I was inquisitive. I liked to ask questions and work directly with the community. However, there comes a point where you’re done asking questions and you want to take direct action. That’s where I fell into my career in policymaking. I could get results once I entered the realm of politics.”
I was still stuck on his mice metaphor. Was this his covert allusion to a conspiracy theory? He had just reduced our lives to a lab experiment, which meant somebody else was definitely pulling the strings. I briefly contemplated this irony but decided that Rybak was sincere. The guy is liberal and oh-so-lovable. If there is a conspiracy theory, he’s probably on our team.
Mayor Rybak was also one of the first public officials to endorse Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, which inevitably means he’s met the man.
“Did you touch him?” I squealed internally. “Is he soft?” Rybak saw the awe in my eyes and smiled. “Obama is not the Messiah; he is a community organizer,” he said. “But I do think that he will go down in history as one of the greatest presidents ever, alone. Obama doesn’t think he’s somebody great and he doesn’t worry when people are cutting him down. When you’re a public official, you realize it’s not about you. You don’t focus on image or legacy when there is so much work to do. Obama doesn’t need to be the Messiah. He doesn’t have to have the answers because he knows the American people can come together. The American people will find the answers to our dilemmas. We are resilient.”
As a journalist, I am wary of sound bytes and on any other day I would’ve written Rybak’s commentary off as such, but a furious sense of human conviction is hard to miss. Rybak leaned forward, flexed his fists, and appeared to be taking a long, refreshing imbibe of HOPE. He clearly believed in it and consequently, I believed him too.
Maybe that’s really the secret to being a great leader: belief — belief in yourself, in your community and in your purpose. Or maybe … one song really can change your life. Rybak admitted that the Talking Heads were one of his favorite bands of all time. It seems fitting. I can see him ending each evening at City Hall with a view of the Minneapolis skyline and the Talking Heads’ “City of Dreams” playing romantically in the background:
“We live in the city of dreams.
We drive on the highway of fire. Should we awake and find it gone — remember this, our favorite town.” Bring on the RTR3.

Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at adresser@mndaily.com.

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