Confederacy of Dunces Dept.

Rybak, McLaughlin spar over ... what, exactly?

It was auspicious occasion indeed today when the campaigns for the two frontrunners to be mayor of Minneapolis, incumbent R.T. Rybak and challenger Peter McLaughlin, sent out sniping press releases about 90 minutes apart. Some took it as a sign that the race was heating up, but in reality this campaign is as cold as a day-old plate of lutefisk in January.

For starters, it was hard to discern what exactly the two candidates were jousting over.

The McLaughlin campaign's missive (blessing e-mail inboxes at 2:05 p.m.) appeared to take issue with Candidate Rybak passing out literature the evening before at a National Night Out event.

"Mayor RT Rybak's re-election campaign continued to blur the line between political and city business," the McLaughlin release nearly whimpered. "Volunteers with Rybak's campaign handed out Minneapolis Mosaic event guides with the Mayor's campaign materials included on them to neighborhood residents."

Minneapolis Mosaic is a program--funded by the city along with various private partners--that celebrates arts and diversity in communities across town. That Rybak would promote Mosaic and his campaign at the same event added up to political shenanigans of the least offensive sort.

Or so one thought until the Rybak campaign responded (at 3:27 p.m.) with an equally earth-shattering accusation. That missive claimed that McLaughlin, a Hennepin County commissioner, had "withdrawn" his support for the county's smoking ban. That's not quite true; last week McLaughlin voted to review sales tax data at the request of the many, many bar owners who are suffering financially because of the ban.

The press release quoted a story from today's Star Tribune that recounted the county board's seeming about-face on the ban, noting that the consortium of bar owners who have been pleading with the county then held a fundraiser for McLaughlin.

"The smoking ban opponents have no doubt that Mr. McLaughlin has joined their ranks," the release crowed, even going so far as to use the dreaded "flip flop" taunt to explain McLaughlin's crime. "Just a few hours after they testified at the county board meeting against the ban they lined up to write checks for Mr. McLaughlin at the fundraiser."

Desperate times call for desperate measures, it would seem. Rybak is hardly the first to use incumbent power to heighten the visibility of his campaign. McLaughlin, similarly, is certainly not the first politico to bow to special interests to get a little cash.

In fact, the fabricated snafu shows that no matter how much each candidate has talked about debating issues of substance, and has spent weeks trying to differentiate himself from the other, Rybak and McLaughlin have proven themselves to be carbon-copy petty politicians--and small-time ones at that. In other words, it's politics, Jake. Forget about it.

It's enough to make one finally cast a vote for perennial candidate Dick Franson.

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