Weighing In

Fred Petters
The Compulsiveness of the Long-Distance Runner
Six months into his mayoral term, R.T. Rybak can't stop campaigning

By G.R. Anderson Jr.

A pack of parade floats are lined up along Minneapolis's Central Avenue, sparkling in the Tuesday evening sun. The tinseled flatbed trailer bearing Miss Columbia Heights blares out "Survivor" by Destiny's Child, while Miss Blaine's float blasts a tinny version of "Born in the U.S.A." Farther down the line, the percussion sections of the Minneapolis Police Band and the Zuhrah Drum Corps compete to be heard.

At the starting point of the Celebrate Northeast Parade, a vacant expanse of gravel at Central and 28th Avenue NE, a veritable orgy of public officials up for reelection wait to do a high-octane meet-and-greet with the floatgazers. Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar is here. So is Hennepin County Commissioner and failed Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Stenglein (sporting an American-flag tie). Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Christine Jax and her husband, DFL State Rep. Len Biernat (brother of Minneapolis City Council member Joe Biernat), linger near some old railroad tracks. Ken Pentel, the Green Party's choice for governor, and Buck Humphrey, the DFL candidate for Secretary of State with the famous name, loiter nearby.

Suddenly R.T. Rybak, Minneapolis mayor and chronic campaigner, appears from behind a yellow school bus. He's decked out in running shoes, khaki shorts, and a "Moe--Governor for Minnesota" T-shirt, since he's ostensibly here to stump for DFLer Roger Moe, currently the state senate majority leader. Nicely tanned, perfectly coiffed, and somehow perspiration-free, Rybak is darting furiously from one contingent to another, telling a group of Shriners that his stepfather was one of them, and promising the Twin Cities River Rats, a water-ski show team, that he'll come down to the Mississippi one night and go off one of their ski jumps. This is the Rybak we all know by now, the one who insists we call him "R.T."

For the moment, he can't be bothered with Moe's campaign. Instead, he's pushing his own agenda. He's armed with a stack of small green fliers urging support for his plan to get Xcel Energy to convert its Riverside coal plant to natural gas. The leaflets bear a visage of Uncle Sam framed by the declaration, "Mayor Rybak needs you...to give Northeast a breath of fresh air."

Despite the arcane nature of the cause, Rybak is bending ears with success, even among those who otherwise wouldn't think twice about a coal-burning plant. It helps that he's a natural at distilling his message clearly and quickly--and that he's disarmingly sincere. "It's the biggest air polluter we have in our city," he tells a group of soapbox derby racers and their blue-collar parents, some of whom nod in appreciation. "We want the lungs of the kids in Northeast to breathe clean air."

Rybak chats with a group from the Eastside Food Cooperative, a venture he deems to be "a really cool example of how far Central Avenue has come along." He reflects briefly on his campaign stint at this parade last year, lamenting that he was then an unknown stuck bringing up the rear.

"I love parades," he coos in a display of geeky enthusiasm. "I am completely in my element. I love this." And then, in the blink of an eye, he's off again, looking for more flesh to press.


Perhaps the mayor's appearance at the parade is emblematic of what we know about Rybak at this point, just more than six months into his tenure. He's maniacally energetic and personable, and true to his word that he's chipping away at the core issues he campaigned on: creating affordable housing, opening up city hall and taming its notorious bureaucracy, and promoting environmentalism. And for the most part, he claims, it's everything he dreamed it would be.

"I'm like the emcee for Minneapolis," Rybak says. "I love that part. This is the only job where I get to be completely R.T. It's the most natural thing for me; it's just what I'm like. I feel like somebody who's been in a singles bar all their lives and suddenly they lock eyes."

But at the same time, it's clear that the mayor--and the inexperienced and activist city council elected along with him--is still engaged in the tricky act of negotiating his way through a first date. By all accounts, Rybak's first six months have been punctuated by surprises, false starts, and campaign promises both enacted and unfulfilled. On one hand, Rybak has been highly visible--something that his predecessor, Sharon Sayles Belton, could never achieve--and active on grassroots, city, and statewide issues. And he wasted no time in tackling Minneapolis's budget crisis and finding ways the entire city council could agree on to make up for the $5.2 million shortfall he inherited. But on the other hand, Rybak's unwavering optimism hasn't been enough to make up for his inexperience, and his urges to reform city government have met with hard realities.  

Perhaps the biggest challenge Rybak is grappling with is finding his role in the city's government. Minneapolis, as legend would have it, operates on what is often referred to as a "weak-mayor system." Under the charter of the city of Minneapolis, the document that has governed the city's operations since 1920, the mayor is largely beholden to the city council. The duties of the mayor, as outlined in the legal document, are laid out on roughly a page and a half, while the power granted to the city council consists of 24 sections running more than 12 pages.

Rybak can't just breeze in and change things to his liking. The mayor needs approval from the city council to carry out any city business. Meanwhile, if the mayor rejects any ordinance or resolution by the council, the council can override the mayor with a simple two-thirds majority. In short, the mayor's job often consists of currying the council's favor.

Past mayors have tackled this with varying success. For better or worse, Sharon Sayles Belton counted on votes from former council president Jackie Cherryhomes, former majority leader Joan Campbell, and a handful of erstwhile council members to get things done. And Don Fraser, Sayles Belton's predecessor, fought tooth and nail for changes in the charter giving slightly more authority to the mayor.

Rybak, however, can't count on scoring victories because of the unusually feisty city council elected last fall. It's unclear whether he'll have enough steady support to complete his agenda. "There's no consistent voting block," observes Lisa Goodman, council member for the Seventh Ward. "Now the direction is like walking on a treadmill. It sometimes seems like nothing gets done."

Former city council member Steve Minn puts a finer point on it. "I think he's finding what any outsider would find," Minn says. "Change is slow to come. Certain reforms, like 24-hour snowplowing, are a logistical nightmare. It's tough to get the [council] votes."

This was perhaps the first lesson Rybak had to swallow, note Goodman, Minn, and others. (They are, however, quick to add that Rybak has been impressive on several counts.) The very day he and the new city council members were inaugurated, the council met to elect its president, vice-president, and committee heads. Rybak had lobbied hard for a particular slate of candidates, and thought he had it locked up. Several last-minute, change-of-heart votes resulted in the selection of a divided council leadership: Rybak favorite Paul Ostrow, of the First Ward, was indeed elected president, but rookie Robert Lilligren from the Eighth Ward won the vice-presidency. A snipe-fest ensued, and the next day, though a mayoral meeting with the new council was supposedly planned, Rybak took the unusual step of hiring a facilitator to smooth things over.

Current council members are quick to note that the changeup was not intended to be a slap in the new mayor's face. (Some say the scramble came from a desire to have a mix of veterans and freshmen leading the council.) But it did send the message that the council would not necessarily vote in lockstep with Rybak. "I think we didn't want to be behind a voting block for four years," Lilligren says now. In terms of his own vote, he adds, "It had much less to do with R.T. and more to do with how important the structure of the council was to me."


Before long, Rybak got his first real taste of his limited power and the frustrations that come with it. On the campaign trail, Rybak had made no secret of his distaste for Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson. During Sayles Belton's waning years, the MPD had been accused of having poor relations with the community, and Rybak put the blame squarely on the chief.

In March, Rybak says, he initiated a "private conversation" with Olson about a possible buyout of the remainder of the chief's contract that somehow "became public." (The police chief is the only city department head who reports directly to the mayor.) Within a month, Rybak was facing television cameras and halfheartedly admitting that he wanted Olson gone. Trouble was, Rybak had not consulted council members to ensure he had the necessary votes to finish off the chief. In the end, as support faded, the buyout plan never came before the council.

Rybak admits defeat. "There were two people in the room, and [the leak] didn't come from me," he says with some lingering bitterness, insisting that he knew well enough beforehand not to play out such moves in the media. "I could have tried to get the votes and ram it though the council, but the timing wasn't ours at that point. I was comfortable with taking the loss."  

It was an embarrassing misstep for Rybak, who often touts his early career as a journalist. "He got played by Battlin' Bob," laughs Steve Minn. "Olson is a great politician, and Rybak was totally flatfooted by the media." Nonetheless Minn believes the mayor looks better in retrospect for having made his point without spending the more than $300,000 it would have cost to buy out Olson's contract. Plus, he and others note, never has the chief appeared more engaged than in the months since the dustup. Perhaps more surprising, the snafu revealed an unexpectedly pragmatic side to the mayor. "Rybak tried and moved on," Minn observes. "The old mayor would have dug her heels in and dragged everyone through a mess to get her way."

When it comes to the stadium bill, Minn is less diplomatic. When initial versions of the bill to build the Minnesota Twins a new ballpark came up in front of legislative committees, Minn says, Sayles Belton and Cherryhomes allowed mayor-elect Rybak to describe the city's position on a new stadium. Rybak misstated some provisions in the city charter regarding the proposed site, as Minn recalls. "I poked my head in the hearing just in time to see him get it wrong," he says. "He was trying, but he didn't quite understand some of the finer points."

The bill came up again after Rybak had taken office, but Minneapolis and Hennepin County failed to put on a unified front, Minn says. "When they faced the legislature, the Hennepin County delegation wasn't all lined up," he explains. "All the Ramsey County people were lined up behind Randy Kelly, showing that they wanted what he did." In the end, the legislature passed a bill favoring St. Paul.

Afterward St. Paul DFL State Rep. Tom Osthoff, who led efforts to keep Minneapolis out of the picture, openly mocked Rybak and Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat. (Because of limits on the city's ability to pay for a new stadium, Minneapolis's only hope of winning the facility at the time rested on a partnership with the county.) Rybak went on television the next day to vent about Osthoff and the legislature playing politics as usual, but the damage was done. This from a man who declared during his campaign that he would successfully direct the legislature's attention back to the city of Minneapolis. "It was a tough legislative session," Rybak concedes. "I'm astonished by the level of senseless animosity toward this great city from people I consider to be radical Republicans."

Rybak also admits that his and the city council's apparent ambivalence toward a new stadium, echoed by the likes of Lilligren, Goodman, and Sixth Ward council member Dean Zimmermann, may have sent the wrong message. City officials simply felt Minneapolis had bigger issues before the legislature, such as securing money for affordable housing and saving Minneapolis's planetarium.

All of which only fuels the ire the mayor reserves for St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, who he claims knew of some back-room dealing to sway lawmakers even while insisting to Rybak that the cities would fight the stadium battle together. "I'm testifying before a committee on the homeless," Rybak complains, "and the cameras are following Kelly out of a minor subcommittee hearing on the ballpark."

Still, opines former council member Lisa McDonald, who ran against Rybak in the last mayoral election, "The legislative session was a bust after he promised a lovefest."


Campaigning last fall as a reformer and outsider, Rybak often vowed to be two things that Sharon Sayles Belton was not: highly visible in the community, and a close listener to the city council.

On visibility, he draws almost universal praise. In addition to the usual appearances, like attending the Twins home opener (and, ironically, singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with Randy Kelly), Rybak has seemed to be everywhere at once. After Minneapolis police officers killed a machete-wielding, mentally ill Somali man in March, he immediately engaged the Somali community. He has popped up at community meetings regarding drug and prostitution problems in the Phillips neighborhood. And he has continually pushed private developers and city planners alike to chip away at the affordable-housing shortage.

"He is willing to be out front in public with us on several things," notes Dean Zimmermann, whose ward includes Phillips. "Rybak is an integral part of how we shape public policy, and his relationship with the council is good. His door is open." Rybak's staff also draws praise, in particular for employing someone full-time to coordinate the city's affordable housing plans.  

While this may seem impressive to constituents and neighborhood activists not accustomed to having direct contact with a mayor, it can also be a drawback, says Lisa Goodman. "He's personally involved, which is a good thing," she notes. "But on the flip side, he's everywhere for five minutes. Sometimes he's an inch deep and a mile wide."

No doubt Rybak is a go-getter, but some worry that his talk is faster than his walk. Minneapolis's weak-mayor charter makes things hard enough for a focused policy wonk like Don Fraser or a quiet powerbroker like Sharon Sayles Belton. And in some ways, what Rybak wants is bigger, more sweeping reforms.

In mid-June, Rybak unveiled what he strongly believes will be the watershed moment of his early tenure--an independent study, done at his behest, known as the McKinsey Report. Though at this stage the report is merely a series of dense, wonky recommendations, it urges city leaders to streamline dramatically many city functions and staffs into one planning and economic agency. Though the city council widely praised the report, others doubt the viability of such a massive overhaul, especially when considering that Minneapolis's business historically revolves around the city's 81 neighborhoods. If notoriously unresponsive city departments were common in the past, critics argue, combining them all into one will likely exacerbate the problems.

"I don't know how he'll implement the things he wants," McDonald says. "There are a lot of hurdles, and he's dealing with a fractured council."

Facilitated meetings notwithstanding, some council members gripe that they are kept out of the loop on some important issues. Lilligren, for one, notes that Rybak has pushed for certain things without fully explaining them to the city council. Others say the new mayor has already expressed frustration at having to put every matter to a council vote.

"Every mayor wants to go through a reorganization period," notes Don Fraser, who held the office from 1980 to 1992. "I think the mayor and his staff are going through a learning process." During his term, Fraser admits, he felt hamstrung, and campaigned to change the charter to allow the mayor more authority.

Minn says he, too, has heard that Rybak's staff has floated the idea of lobbying for charter amendments. "All mayors crave a little autonomy from a strong council," he posits. "He's not going to do anything in the first two years. R.T. needs a little more seasoning before he can get what he wants."

Rybak flatly denies seeking more power, though he does talk about "changing the infrastructure of the city" and creating "a real live city manager with real live authority." Mostly, though, in classic Rybak fashion, he praises city workers and his staff and council members, saying he wants to work with them. "I'm not going to reach into a drawer and pull out the city charter," he insists. "I'm going to lead, and I want to mobilize the community. A changed charter won't do that.

"The bigger challenge is to find balance," he concludes. "We used to just take five white guys, stick 'em in the Minneapolis Club, and come out with a solution."


Back in Northeast Minneapolis as the parade gets rolling, Rybak is fidgeting. Clearly he can't stand the comparatively slow pace of the other politicians. There is, he often quips, "an ADD R.T."

But these days there's also a self-deprecating R.T.--a departure from the hubris he often conjured on the campaign trail. Rybak jokes with some at the parade that while he's readying to compete in a triathlon soon, he likely won't finish. Then he tells a woman from Critical Mass, a bike-riding activist group that has recently run afoul of the police, that she's more likely to get arrested if he rides with them next time out. Then he quietly shakes the hands of the numerous police officers keeping watch over the event.

In short, he has become surprisingly likable as a confessional mayor struggling to keep alive an agenda that even critics have admired. It's a subtle transformation, perhaps born of necessity, but one in keeping with Rybak's intense desire to be seen as a masterful policymaker.

The mayor paces a little circle, leaflets in hand, waiting for Roger Moe to make it to the parade route. Suddenly the two sprint into action, shaking every hand as they work their way down the west side of Central Avenue. "Hi, I'm Mayor Rybak, and I want you to meet Roger Moe, the next governor of Minnesota," Rybak repeats again and again as the stiffer, slower Moe struggles to keep up.

Suddenly the mayor of Minneapolis is a half-block ahead of the candidate, the volunteers, and his own wife and daughter. He jumps the curb to shake hands with parade watchers on the sidewalk. He doubles back to hand out leaflets on his Xcel Energy issue. He waves down an old buggy carrying Carol Johnson, superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, and urges Moe to get in for a quick photo op.  

After a quick round of musical chairs in the back of the buggy, Rybak hops out the back and continues pressing the flesh. Moe struggles to get out of the car as it chugs along, and Rybak circles back to help him out the side door. The mayor pauses just for a second, though, before disappearing up the block and out of view, leaving everyone else in the dust.


Troubling River City
St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly is keeping his campaign promises. And boy are people mad about it.

By Paul Demko

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly is telling a joke. He is on stage at downtown's RiverCentre, welcoming a group of 10,000 petticoat- and bolo tie-clad square dancers to their annual national convention. The mayor's joke involves a cat and a group of mice who all die and go to heaven. St. Peter asks the mice how he can make their stay more enjoyable, the mayor relates. The mice respond by asking for Rollerblades so they don't have to run anymore.

The cat asks for nothing. When St. Peter stops by to see how the feline is enjoying his stay in heaven, though, the response is enthusiastic. "Heaven is even better than I thought it would be," the cat responds. "I really appreciate you bringing me those meals on wheels." As Kelly delivers this punch line, a big grin spreads across his face, and the elderly audience breaks out in laughter and applause.

Just down Kellogg Boulevard this Wednesday evening in late June, at City Hall, a different game of cat-and-mouse is playing itself out. In this setting, however, the mayor is the cat, and the seven city council members are the unwitting mice. The council members are scrutinizing a much-anticipated opinion from the St. Paul City Attorney's Office laying out whether the mayor can implement various administrative and budgetary changes without the council's approval. In this game, too, the cat is winning: The city attorney's opinion concludes that the mayor can go forward with all but one of his proposed changes.

Perhaps the most telling section of the document is a single paragraph at the end of the 18-page opinion, under the heading "Council's Capacity to Sue." Two weeks earlier council members had requested that the city attorney investigate whether it was possible for them to sue their own municipality. The answer, in short, is no. "The council is a part of the city and does not have the capacity to sue its own," the opinion states. In other words, the city council would be suing itself.

The legal opinion is merely a pause in an ongoing tussle between the city council and the mayor's office. During the first six months of Randy Kelly's administration, the normally placid domain of St. Paul city politics has been transformed into a spectator sport. In recent weeks members of the city council have taken regularly to dressing down the administration during their weekly meetings, questioning the impartiality of the city attorney's office and lamenting their own impotence under St. Paul's so-called strong-mayor system of government. (Unlike the mayor in Minneapolis, Kelly is much more than the symbolic head of the city. He is also its top administrator, with broad power to enact financial and administrative changes.)

The chief point of contention has been Kelly's attempt to tighten the purse strings in anticipation of a $16 million budget shortfall that is projected for next year. Among the measures put into effect by his administration on July 1 were cuts to the police, public works, and fire departments, as well as reductions in employee travel and office supplies. The net goal is to reduce spending by $1.3 million in the final half of the year.

Kelly's changes did not stop with budget cutting, however. The administration also proposed reorganizing several city departments, creating a New Americans Office to serve the needs of immigrants and a Neighborhood Housing and Property Improvement Office to deal with code-enforcement issues.

Several council members believe that, in unilaterally making these changes, the administration overstepped its authority. "How does what you're doing here not just completely eviscerate the budget process?" wondered Ward Two council member Chris Coleman at a June city council meeting.

The first six months of the Kelly administration have been marked by two characteristics: the mayor's painstaking adherence to the policies he articulated on the campaign trail; and his seemingly limitless ability to antagonize his fellow elected officials in pursuing those policies. During the election, the longtime DFL state legislator fought his reputation for having a fiery temper by shouldering a guitar and singing country tunes. But since gaining office he has not shied away from confrontation.  

After years of protracted debate, Kelly opened up Ayd Mill Road to four lanes of traffic--just as he vowed to do. He's been equally single-minded in pursuing his plan to win public financing for a new Twins stadium. Other campaign promises, such as increasing the city's housing stock and holding the line on property taxes, have also been early hallmarks of Kelly's tenure. "I'm a person who believes you do what you tell people you'll do," he says.

The problem, some city council members argue, is the way he has gone about implementing these policies. In their eyes Kelly has chosen to rule by fiat rather than consensus. On a host of issues, from Ayd Mill Road to stadium financing and budget cutbacks, city council members say that their opinions have been ignored. "I think he's almost to the point where he's abusing the relationship between the mayor and the council," says Ward One council member Jerry Blakey. "He has said, 'I'm gonna do this,' and he just goes on and does it and he lets us know afterward. I guess that's a process, but it's not a good process."

Blakey is himself considering the possibility of suing the city. He charges that the mayor has illegally overstepped his authority by unilaterally reorganizing city departments. "I don't want to do that, but at this point I don't see a way around it," he says.

Other council members are equally frustrated, but stop short of threatening legal action. "It's kind of like a divorce, with the public as the kids," says Ward Seven council member Kathy Lantry. "Don't you want somebody to say, 'Okay, we could bicker and have a really ugly custody battle, but why don't we show the kids that we can be adults here and work it out?' That's what I would like to see, because all it does is rip the two sides farther apart and wreck the kids."

Lantry does, however, think the city council should have its own attorney to rely on for legal opinions. "If you ask the city attorney, 'Who is your client?' they will say, with all conviction, 'My client is the city,'" Lantry notes. "Well, the problem is that the administration of the city and the policymaking body of the city can be in conflict, and then what [does the attorney] do? Who signs his check? My name is not on it. Who appoints him? Not me."

Kelly dismisses such complaints, maintaining that he has not overstepped his authority, and that council members have been consulted on every issue he has addressed. He further asserts that, because council members are only on the job part-time, it's often difficult to schedule meetings with them. "It's not like we don't try, many times, and for very legitimate reasons folks can't make it," Kelly says.


Perhaps no issue has been more divisive than the mayor's attempted shakeup of the city's Department of Human Rights. The government agency is charged with investigating complaints of workplace discrimination, as well as bolstering the number of minority contractors hired by the city. As of July 1, the Kelly administration eliminated a deputy director position from the department. It also planned to transfer two department employees to the New Americans Office, and a part-time employee to the Contract and Analysis Services Office. The net effect would have been to decrease human rights staffing by roughly a quarter.

"The department's name is human rights," asserts Lantry. "All human rights, regardless of color or ethnicity, are what they're charged to protect. New Americans, old Americans--it doesn't matter."

"I haven't heard any new Americans say they want it so far," adds Blakey. "It cripples the human rights department."

At a city council meeting in late June, roughly 60 people gathered to protest the changes. Although there was no public hearing scheduled to address the issue, citizens voiced their opinions through a rainbow assortment of signs bearing slogans such as "Don't Weaken, Strengthen Human Rights!!!" and "The Fight for Freedom is Not Free."

Among the protesters was Katie McWatt, first vice president of the St. Paul NAACP, which is considering bringing legal action to try to stop the changes to the Human Rights Department from moving forward. "It's very shortsighted, and it shows a real lack of understanding of history, of people, of the problems that a real mayor and a real city face," McWatt explained later. "We're just looking at everything we can that would stop the city from weakening--and therefore eliminating--the department."  

St. Paul Human Rights Director Tyrone Terrill is diplomatic about the proposed changes. He says that he has only met with the mayor once so far, but expects that to change soon. "I think anybody who becomes mayor of a major city is overwhelmed initially in terms of having everybody pulling at you," Terrill says. "It's my hope that as we start these meetings the mayor will learn more about what we do and understand the value of what we do, and that there won't be any further reductions of the agency."

For now the three employees appear to have been given a reprieve. According to the city attorney, council approval is required to transfer the positions. Last week, in a letter to the city council, Kelly agreed to hold off on the changes. However, the administration still intends to follow through with the reorganization in the future. "The mayor has not in any way abandoned his thoughts about the new immigrants office," says Deputy Mayor Dennis Flaherty.

Kelly argues that the proposed changes are simply an acknowledgement that the minority population in St. Paul, which is roughly one-third of the entire population, has shifted dramatically in recent years. "If you look across the country, which I do because I'm a student of government, this is how they are trying to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing immigrant population," Kelly says. "You can't address the issue in the 21st Century with 1970s structures or strategies. It is misleading to suggest that we are cutting human rights, or that we are decreasing opportunities for people of color."

Kelly further asserts that the public handwringing over the fate of the Human Rights Department by council members is disingenuous. He claims that when his administration sought input from the council on possible budget cuts, five of the seven members endorsed eliminating the department altogether. "People can criticize on camera, but you're only getting part of the story," he says.

Kelly also points out that the administration has gone out of its way to embrace the city's diversity in other respects. In March, the mayor led a summit on cultural relations, and has made it a priority to diversify the city's workforce. (Kelly says that 32 percent of new hires this year have been minorities, compared to 13 percent when he arrived.) He has also led an effort to rename a city street after Martin Luther King Jr.

McWatt, however, pooh-poohs such symbolic gestures. "We have to have some laws for people who are alive, too," she quips.


Despite all of the squabbling between the mayor's office and the city council, there is one issue on which everyone agrees: Hammering out a 2003 budget will not be pleasant. The city is facing a projected shortfall of $16 million as budget negotiations get underway next month--roughly 10 percent of the entire annual budget. With the state government also facing looming deficits, most political observers expect cutbacks in state aid to municipalities as well.

"I work on the budget every day--I know what's coming," asserts Kelly. "We are going to have a dickens of a time reconciling the budget gap that we have staring us in the face."

The timing could prove particularly uncomfortable for Kelly. If all goes according to plan, budget negotiations will be heating up at the same time that voters are heading to the polls to decide whether to raise taxes for a new Twins stadium. "I think our priorities are all messed up when we're willing to raise taxes for a stadium," Lantry says. "I will be fascinated to see his 2003 proposed budget, because I guarantee you that he's going to talk about closing rec centers or libraries. He's got to. There's no other way to make the numbers work."

The strong-mayor system will be of little help to Kelly in convincing voters that their tax dollars are better spent on a sports stadium than on city services. After six months the mayor is well aware of the political advantages--and financial disadvantages--that he has over his fellow fledgling mayor across the river. "The real advantage that [Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak] has is a city with a phenomenal tax base, a fabulous economic engine," Kelly says. "The biggest liability he has is that it's a weak-mayor form of government, so you essentially have 14 mayors in Minneapolis. You have the mayor and you have 14 very strong ward bosses. That is a difficult environment [in which] to get consensus and to move forward."

In St. Paul, there may not be consensus, but, for better or worse, Kelly is moving forward with his agenda. After six months, everyone knows that he is the mayor.

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