Off Beat

Braking and Exiting

A WHILE BACK Roger Swardson wrote in these Pages of local businesses' numerous failed attempts to rein in shopping-cart theft ("Hot Wheels," February 17, 1999). Not long afterward the City of Minneapolis passed an ordinance holding store owners in cart-heavy neighborhoods accountable for their runaways. A lot of difference that made. Now the Target store on East Lake Street is throwing down the gauntlet. An anti-theft device called "The Wheel," produced by Irvine, California-based Gatekeeper Systems, consists of a specially designed wheel that is attached to each shopping cart. A radio cable is buried about an inch beneath the ground around the Target property's perimeter. When a cart reaches the boundary, the cable sends a signal to the special wheel and triggers a brake, thus making it impossible for the would-be shopping-cart scofflaw to continue on his merry way. At the time of Swardson's article, a similar device had been tested and found wanting, owing to equipment failure and winter weather realities. But Target's Jan Matheus reports that the Wheel is working for her on Lake Street: Though the store had been losing ten to fifteen carts per month in the past and repossessing a fair number as well, only one cart has disappeared since the experiment began September 18. (Matheus attributes that loss to a single faulty device.) If the Wheel holds up through January, Matheus says, it may be implemented Target-wide. "The winter's gonna be the big test," she concedes.

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

R.T. RYBAK PHONED the other day with something on his mind. After several minutes of hemming and hawing, it became clear that the purpose of his call was to persuade Off Beat to goad him into revealing that he intends to enter the 2001 Minneapolis mayor's race. "It's becoming very clear that there's a need to have a dramatic reform candidate in the race--reform with a small r, by the way," says Rybak, who allows finally that he's "moving much closer" to declaring his candidacy. The "announcement" brings to five the number of names being bandied about in connection with the race. The others: Tenth Ward city council member Lisa McDonald; state GOP chairman Ron Eibensteiner; Hennepin County commissioner Mark Stenglein; and, of course, two-term incumbent Sharon Sayles Belton (who's rumored to be Washington bound if Al Gore beats George W. Bush). The 45-year-old Rybak sports a varied résumé: reporter for the Star Tribune; development director at the Minneapolis Downtown Council; publisher of the now-defunct Twin Cities Reader and of WCCO's Channel 4000 Web site. Most recently he has been working as an Internet consultant, and he helped to found ROAR (Residents Opposed to Aircraft Racket). Though he has never run for office, Rybak was involved in Rip Rapson's 1993 bid for Minneapolis mayor and was co-chair for Tony Bouza's 1994 campaign for governor. What makes him think he can succeed where those candidates failed? "I know where the bodies are buried, but I'm not one of the corpses."

Last Men Standing

WHEN WE ASKED readers to choose the most shameless shill on WCCO-TV's Hometown Team ("What Does This Have to Do With Covering the News? Everything," September 27), we were pretty confident dapper Don Shelby would win going away. He is, after all, the Man at 6:00 and 10:00, capable of shifting from hard news to synergistic soft sell with self-effacing aplomb. And sure enough, when the initial votes came rolling in, Shelby sprinted to an early lead, with on-air partner Amelia Santaniello a close second and substitute anchor Randi Kaye in third. But then a talking head with much less face time began to emerge from the pack. No, it wasn't weatherman Paul Douglas (to Off Beat's surprise, he was shut out), smilin' Dave Schechter, or the impeccably coifed Dennis Douda, who faded in the home stretch. Before it all was said and done, morning anchor Dave Huddleston not only caught Shelby, but sprinted past. But then Shelby fans dug in for a final push. In the end, it was dead even: Shelby and Huddleston finished tied at 26 percent of the vote, with Kaye holding on to third with 18 percent. In the words of one Huddleston rooter, the underdog "just gets better every day!"