When former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak first sat down to write his memoir, he had a decision to make about the tone of his book.
“I had to decide whether I wanted to write as a washed-up politician or a washed-up journalist,” Rybak said.
Rybak said he chose the latter when writing “Pothole Confidential,” which he’s celebrating with a release party at First Avenue’s Mainroom.
Musicians Big Trouble + dVRG, Chris Koza, Lucy Michelle, Toki Wright, Terry Walsh, World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band and DJ Shannon Blowtorch will also perform at the release show.
A&E did a Q&A with Rybak ahead of the Wednesday party.
You wanted to make your book a real portrait of a political life rather than what people see on a show like “House of Cards.” Could you expand on that?
Very early in my career I covered City Hall, and I tried to go back to those roots and say, “If I hadn’t been a mayor and had been a journalist all this time, what would I want people to know?”
Every time I could, I just said, “Tell it like it is, and let the chips fall where they may.” I admit an enormous number of mistakes, which I think is good because people should understand that these are human beings who have these [political] jobs.
You had to write several drafts of sections of your book concerning police/community relations following various events across the country related to the Black Lives Matter movement. What was it like for you, as the former mayor, to watch what’s happening in Minneapolis?
It was excruciatingly strange to watch the city that you love being pulled apart. But it’s also important for us to recognize that this isn’t about one event, but a long history of huge gaps. So I tried to explain what I saw about the gap in community relations, trying to get people to see what I was able to see: both the police officers and community members.
Do you cover your triumphs and regrets as a mayor in the book?
Like the job itself, the book careens from happy to sad to surprising to all over the map because that’s what it’s like to be hurled between these different worlds one hour to the other. I try to capture that spirit in the book because that’s what the job was like.
Why should young people, like U students, read this book?
I taught a class called Mayor 101 at the “U” for several semesters, and I was struck by how savvy so many of the students are about what’s going on, but also how much they are exposed to incredibly negative images of public life.
More than anything, I want young people to understand what it’s like in office, but almost as closely, I want more of them to run. Know that this is noble work and the crap you see on “House of Cards” instills cynicism — it’s not reality. [Running for office] is a really important thing to do and it’s really important for young people to get active in it.
You can, in fact, take an unlikely cause and win, even in a deeply flawed system. I got elected as somebody who was a massive underdog … in reading the book, I hope young people will get a sense that it’s worth it to throw your heart into a tough political campaign and not always win. Almost always, somehow, the effort advances however far you get.
Will you ever run for office again?
I may run for office sometime, but once people read the book, they’ll realize that a person trying to set up their next political step would not have written a book like this at all. It’s an attempt to be honest and show myself, not as a politician but as a human being trying to navigate through a lot. A person trying to run for office would definitely not have written this book.
A lot of people compare you to the fictional mayor on the TV show “Portlandia.”
My kids do.
You’ve got a hipper, more youthful image than most mayors of urban cities. How do you feel about the “Portlandia” comparison?
There’s definitely an over-the-top, enthusiastic “Portlandia” mayor in me, but I hope people see, in the book, that there’s a side that was in the middle of a bunch of
traumatic events, somebody who figured out how to balance the budget.
I’m partly “Portlandia,” but I hope I’m a little rounder than that. I do laugh at the show, and my family and staff circulated clips that sounded eerily familiar.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length.