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Minneapolis Mayor R T Rybak Jr
An early opponent of the Iraq war

By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

8 November 2009: The crowd-surfing mayor of one of the Twin Cities' first came to prominence as a journalist and community activist, eventually replacing its first female and African-American mayor in 2001. Comfortably re-elected in 2005 and 2009, its charismatic and driven city leader is picking up plaudits on a number of fronts as a representative of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL). The mayor has been short-listed for the 2008 World Mayor Award.

Update November 2013: Betsy Hodges elected as mayor in the 5 November mayoral elections.

A lifelong Minneapolitan, Raymond Thomas Rybak Jr was born in 1955, the son of a pharmacist. Rybak was schooled at the private Episcopalian Breck School and graduated from the private Catholic Boston College in 1978. He began his career as a journalist, working on the Minneapolis Tribune (later Star Tribune) in the late 1970s and 1980s, before going on to edit the Twin Cities Reader.  He also acted as Development Director for Minneapolis' Downtown Council.

Though the paper folded in 1997, Rybak took advantage of the dot-com era and headed Internet Broadcasting Systems, the leading platform for America's premier TV companies, headquartered in the Minnesota's largest city on account of its origins as the website for local TV station WCCO. After his stint there, he branched out as an internet strategist, as the R.T.Rybak Company, before running for mayor.  As the founder of Q Monthly, a local gay newspaper, Rybak has been a vocal supporter of the Twin Cities' lesbian and gay community and became best known before becoming mayor as one of the founders of ROAR (Residents Against Airport Racket), which campaigned against night flights at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport.

Having covered the city council and its crime beat as a reporter on the local paper, Rybak was attune with many city residents' priorities while campaigning against two-term mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton, also a DFL-er. Rybak's The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party is the only state Democratic Party to exist on the ballot in the US under another name, on account of the merger between the state Democratic Party and the Farmer-Labor Party in 1944. The party, notable for former US vice presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, owes its heritage to the descendents of Scandinavian agrarian socialists and is regarded as being more progressive and populist compared to the mainstream Democratic Party.

On becoming mayor, Rybak signaled his opposition to the US invasion of Iraq but also threatened to veto any city council motion against the war on account of it being merely symbolic. He also raised eyebrows when he stage-dived at a rock concert held in the city, a move that proved ultimately popular, having pledged to repeat the experience again. As mayor, Rybak has had to make tough decisions to balance the budget on account of inherited deficits. However, his reforms to the city's development control system have been accredited with delivering both new housing supply and an expansion of the jobs market, which have garnered interest across the US. The mayor has also placed great emphasis on increasing sports participation as a means to improve both quality of life and promote tourism in the city, such as Rybak's own brainchild, the Loppet urban-ski race, the only in North America.

Having spearheaded an Ethics Task Force to examine and overhaul the city's ethical code, as well as abolishing the stricken Libraries Board, Rybak had the city's Board of Estimate and Taxation in his sights, arguing for the abolition of the "obscure" body which has the final say on the city's taxes. However, when put to voters during his 2009 re-election campaign, an amendment to the city charter to effect this was roundly defeated. Conscious of the need to promote the city's brand as one of the Twin Cities, both Minneapolis and longstanding rival state capital St Paul have come together as Minneapolis-St. Paul in a move designed to eliminate competition and promote the metro area as a single entity in which to live, work or visit. The initiative is also supported by St Paul's new Mayor Chris Coleman, elected in 2006 to replace longstanding mayor and fellow DFL-er Randy Kelly, who had controversially endorsed George W. Bush's re-election bid two years earlier.

Mayor Rybak was a co-chair of the Minnesota for Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2004 and was chair of the Minnesota for Barack Obama campaign in 2008, the first mayor to endorse him. In addition, as one of Minnesota's leading Democrats, Mayor Rybak campaigned for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.  In 2008 he was elected as Vice President (Communications) of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.

Mayor Rybak is married to Megan and has two children, Charlie, who attends George Washington University, and Grace, who attends his alma mater Breck, for which he has received criticism for not supporting the city's public schools by sending his own children there.

World Mayor 2023