Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk: The R.T. Shuffle

Who's in, Who's out in Rybak Mach II

A press release from Mayor R.T. Rybak's office this week highlighted yet another change in hizzoner's administration. Cara Letofsky, who unsuccessfully ran for the Minneapolis City Council in Ward Two last year, is coattailing to City Hall as a policy aide.

"As part of Mayor Rybak's policy team," the statement states, "Letofsky will manage community development, housing, and environment policy issues and will play a leading role in Mayor Rybak's Great City Agenda to re-weave the urban fabric of Minneapolis."

The announcement is notable because: 1) Letofsky enjoyed support from the mayor during her campaign; and, 2) There's been enough turnover at City Hall that one could imagine that Rybak is trying to overhaul an administration into his own term-two image.

Letofsky, for example, managed to get the vaunted DFL stamp of approval during the campaign, something the mayor was not able to do. Nevertheless, his support shows that she fits more in the mold of an R.T. lifestyle liberalism--fetishizing social issues like gay rights and the environment and boutique issues like the smoking ban--than any kind of working and labor issues that still fascinate the old-guard DFLers.

Letofsky is the latest new face at City Hall--and there are certain to be a few more--in an infusion of fresh blood that began more than six months ago.

In June, policy aide Erik Takeshita left the mayor's office, and longtime media relations coordinator Laura Sether stepped into his role--which focused primarily on housing, the environment and development. Jeremy Hanson, who spent four years as the public policy director of the Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition before moving on to the the PR firm Tunheim Partners, filled Sether's shoes. Sether left abruptly, and word around City Hall was that she was dumped rather unceremoniously.

Letofsky will be taking the Takeshita position.

After the mayor's re-election and the new year, David Fey, the deputy mayor, got the boot--though he landed over at the city's Community Planning and Economic Development department. Likewise, Kinshasha Kambui, another policy aide who focused on education and civil rights, also is not returning for a second stint.(Kambui is African American; she and the Asian American Takeshita were the only persons of color in the mayor's office.)

Kambui's position has not been filled--"By the end of the month," predicts Jeremy Hanson--but Fey's position went to Tina Smith, who was a vice president for Planned Parenthood Minnesota-South Dakota-North Dakota. Smith, who is tight with the Mondales, working with Ted on the Met Council and Walter on his failed 2002 U.S. Senate campaign, will assume the title "chief of staff" rather than deputy mayor.

Outside of the mayor's office, Rybak has chosen not to reappoint some tather prominet department heads. John Moir, the city coordinator, is out--though he likewise landed at CPED--and Steven Bosacker is in. Bosacker, you might recall, was Governor Jesse Ventura's former chief of staff; more recently he help coordinate the city's new 311 general information service.

Klara Fabry, one of Rybak's proud appointments four years ago, was not asked to return as the director of publiic works. Bosacker, according to Hanson, is conducting a search for her replacement.

Rumors have been flying around City Hall regarding all the shuffling. So, what gives? "There's probably a lot of reasons [for departures] in each case," new flack Hanson says. "It's just that time where there's a lot of turning over."

But there's another dynamic at work, too. Rybak has often surrounded himself with people who are positively starry-eyed over him. There's reason to believe that in the case of a couple of those relationships, the bloom fell off the rose.

Rybak is also gaining a reputation for searching for and finding qualified people, then turning petulant when they don't march lock-step with him on every decision. Policy makers are sought, but rarely rewarded.

Smith, Letofsky and Bosacker all come with bona fides outside of City Hall, and, with the possible exception of Letofsky, don't need Rybak to make a mark. Whether they toe the mayor's party line will remain to be seen.