The real R.T. Rybak

Up close and personal with the Minneapolis mayor

Souvenir hardhats from various groundbreakings and photos with dignitaries decorate his office. On one wall is a framed letter dated 1955 from Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey to the elder Raymond Rybak congratulating him on the birth of a bouncing baby boy named Raymond Thomas.

It's December 22, but January's schedule has already been booked solid. For the most part, Hottinger is helping the mayor sort out his February agenda.

"Let's dig in," Rybak says.

Rybak rehashes his ten years in office with MPR's Gary Eichten.
Jana Freiband
Rybak rehashes his ten years in office with MPR's Gary Eichten.
Rybak discusses his Vikings stadium proposal with WCCO's Pat Kessler outside MPR headquarters
Jana Freiband
Rybak discusses his Vikings stadium proposal with WCCO's Pat Kessler outside MPR headquarters

The St. Paul City Council inaugural ball?


A place on the Slovak Community Center's welcoming committee should Vladimir Putin accept their invitation to come to town?

"Wha-hahahat?" the mayor asks incredulously. "I don't think I'd necessarily welcome him."

A daylong education convention in Seattle hosted by the Gates Foundation?

"I think I should go. They do a lot of funding," Rybak says.

Hottinger consults her iPad—the conference falls on the same day as the Minneapolis Downtown Council's annual meeting.

"Oh, shiiiii-eehhh," the mayor says, trailing off mid-expletive. "That's a big problem."

Rybak repeatedly rebuffs appointments for Christmas vacation days and Sundays.

"I really can't right now," he says.

A few days later, Rybak plans his itinerary for a trip to D.C. where he is presenting his most prized city program: the Minneapolis Promise, an education program with a summer-job placement component called STEP-UP. He's been invited to present the program at a jobs summit at the White House, which requires fussing over the draft of a pithy "ask" letter and how to drum up media attention.

"I just want to be clear," says communications director John Stiles. "Are we trying to pitch a big story on STEP-UP?"

"First priority is the talking points," Rybak says, glancing at the clock. "I gotta go on this call."

"I don't think we have to make a big deal of this," Chief of Staff Jeremy Hanson Willis offers with a hint of exasperation.

"I feel like I'm getting a mixed message on how big we're blowing this up," returns Stiles.

"I have to go outside," says Rybak, grabbing his coat.

He's got a conference call with the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, an organization that is currently recruiting and training mayors to support the president's reelection. Politicking isn't allowed in City Hall, so Rybak snatches one of his two iPhones—the one he pays for—and speed walks out of the office and down the marble stairs.

As Rybak strides across the street to the US Bank building, he exchanges a cordial nod with two members of a search firm he's contracted. They're here to help him find the replacement director of Community Planning and Economic Development—his 12 p.m. appointment.

Inside US Bank, Rybak takes a seat in the food court and makes exasperated faces as he waits for all the mayors to get on the call. He'll have to be on his best behavior—in a few weeks he's running for president of the organization.

"Do we think we have need for a fundraising event? It strikes me we should," Rybak says into the phone, tapping notes on his iPad. "Should we just do individual calls?"

After barely 15 minutes, Rybak jumps up, rides down the escalator, and heads for City Hall. Back up on the third floor, he closes the double doors to his office for his meeting with the search committee.

In his own office adjacent to the mayor's, Stiles says in a low voice that the mayor is a bit preoccupied with his niece's illness. Rybak is trying to keep some days open for his wife's family. But he's fighting a losing battle with his schedule.

An hour later, Hottinger sticks her head in the mayor's office with her palm up to give the five-minute warning.

Rybak cheerfully shows the search committee to the door, offering optimistic praise for the candidate they've just been discussing, then pulls his coat on again.

Across the street, he reclines on the couches in the main lobby floor of US Bank, with the elevators dinging ceaselessly in the background. He's on a conference call with the Iowa Democratic Chair and a dozen local reporters.

"Mitt Romney has proven incapable of making tough decisions," Rybak says. "We don't know what side of the bed he's going to wake up on that day."

After he hangs up, Rybak shakes his head.

"I've never been comfortable on attack politics, but all I need to do is turn on the TV and listen to Romney and Gingrich and listen to what they're saying," Rybak explains. "I'm really lucky I get to correct the record."


AROUND 10 P.M. on the day after Christmas, Rybak watches TV with his wife, Megan O'Hara, and their two children, Charlie and Grace, when one of his iPhones buzzes with a new text message.

It's Sherman Patterson, the mayor's public safety policy aide for the past six years. At this time of night, news from Patterson is never good.

About two hours earlier, in a neighborhood seven miles north of the Rybaks' stately Lake Harriet colonial, a skirmish broke out at the mouth of a darkened alley. A gunshot rang out and the bullet sailed high and long over the street corner, punching through the blue-gray siding of 2644 Colfax, and crashing into the back of three-year-old Terrell Mayes's head.

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