"We had a conscious 'left-right' strategy," explained retiring city-council member Jim Niland, a prominent field general and number-cruncher in the Rybak camp. "We needed to split Sharon's progressive-liberal DFL base enough to block the endorsement at the convention, then, for the primary, secure our base with those same people in the fertile crescent of [voter-rich, south-side] wards 13, 11, and 12. We knew [erstwhile mayoral candidates Lisa] McDonald and [Mark] Stenglein would fight it out for the conservative vote, but that if we got through the primary we'd be the alternative candidate, because for a lot of them, Sayles Belton was just unacceptable. That's where we'd go after the primary, north and northeast, in those three wards--one, three, and four--that had never voted for the mayor."
Which explains why affordable housing was Rybak's number-one issue leading up to the primary and why "getting the city's financial house in order" became his number-one issue leading up to the general election: "Left-right." A one-two punch that the mayor--who eventually resorted to almost literally draping herself in the flag, donning a patriotic scarf for the final debate--saw coming way too late.
Overall, Rybak lost only two of thirteen wards, the fifth and the eighth, both of them predominantly African American, although there was enough of a racial rainbow in the Ukrainian hall to banish any latent guilt from the celebration. In particular, there was an especially large contingent of Somalis, who no doubt helped Rybak nearly overtake the mayor in her old Eighth Ward neighborhood.
"He said he could help us, help our culture," said Hawa Aden, a coordinator for the group Somali Women in Minnesota. "It is because of his personality and his good heart, the spirit and the energy that came from his eyes. That's why we voted for him."
The perfect campaign is over. Now R.T. Rybak has to figure out how to build thousands of units of affordable housing and put the city's financial house in order at the same time. May the spirit be with him.