If the Democratic National Committee were seeking either energy or ideas, it probably couldn’t have done better than choosing Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak as a vice chairman of the organization that creates strategy for the huge elections of 2012.
Rybak will officially become a DNC vice chairman this weekend at its meeting in Chicago.
Not surprisingly, he’s ready to begin campaigning hard for President Obama.
“I can’t really do more than I did before,” the mayor said Wednesday, “but I will have more visibility.”
Rybak will fill the vacancy on the six-person officer board created when Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz became chairwoman of the organization. The other four vice chairs are California Rep. Mike Honda, political strategist Donna Brazile, union leader Linda Chavez-Thompson and Raymond Buckley, president of the Association of State Democratic Party chairs.
The Obama connection
It is rare for a mayor to be named to the board. Although Rybak said it’s not clear who nominated him for the spot, his relationship with the president certainly had to be a boost.
That relationship goes back to when Rybak led a “draft Obama for president” movement.
“He called once when we were doing the draft movement and he said, ‘Hello, it’s Barack.’ “
There was a pause in the conversation, Rybak recalled.
“Obama,” the man who would become president said to clarify his identity.
“I still laugh about that,” Rybak said. “I mean, how many Baracks did I know?”
The relationship does seem genuine. When the president spoke last week at the American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis, for example, he acknowledged the presence of a long list of state politicians. When he got to Rybak, Obama paused and then said, “My friend, the mayor …”
A call from the president
On Wednesday, Rybak got a call from the president.
“It was a quick call, but he wanted to brief me on the budget speech,” Rybak said. “He wants people from outside the Washington echo chamber to be speaking out after the speech.”
Clearly speaking out won’t be heavy lifting for Rybak, who, even without the vice chair position, has been working to motivate Democrats.
“This will be a tough re-election,” Rybak said, “but I’m so excited about making the case for somebody I believe in.”
Rybak rattled off what he considers the highlights of Obama’s first term: He “saved” the auto industry, put 30 million people on health care who otherwise would have been uninsured, mended international relationships that had been “horribly” damaged by the previous administration, and set the stage for the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
“I can go on and on,” Rybak said. “We need to tell the story of what he’s done against incredible odds.”
The vice chairs of the DNC act as something of a board of directors for the body, Rybak said.
“But because we’re Democrats, it means those of us at the top listen, then react,” he said with a laugh.
‘Surrogate’ campaign duties, too
He assumes the position also will mean “surrogate” duties during the campaign.
But none of this will take away from his duties as mayor, Rybak said.
“I would have been doing as much as possible in any circumstance,” he said of working on behalf of the president. “It just means I won’t have much couch time.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.