Mayor R.T. Rybak’s high-profile, national Democratic post is perfect for longtime Obama advocate

Mayor R.T. Rybak
Mayor R.T. Rybak

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.

At a February 2008 rally, then presidential candidate Barack Obama warmly greets Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, one of his early supporters.
Caleb Williams/Augsburg Echo
At a February 2008 rally, then presidential candidate Barack Obama warmly greets Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, one of his early supporters.

“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.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 09/08/2011 - 12:05 pm.

    This is good for MN! Thanks to Doug Grow for a good story.

  2. Submitted by Annie Grandy on 09/08/2011 - 12:50 pm.

    “We need to tell the story of what he’s done against incredible odds.”
    Exactly! The challenge is to do that as honestly as possible.
    Recently a Washington insider was talking about the President’s accomplishments and stated it as if he had achieved everything he had promised in his first presidential campaign. This approach is disheartening because he did not achieve everything he promised. That is what has so many of his prior supporters sitting back and just watching this time. But he did achieve a great deal “against incredible odds.”
    That emphasis does 2 things; first, it encourages skeptical supporters to be more willing to renew their energetic involvement in this re-election campaign and second, it encurages all of us to be aware that we must work just as hard to elect a Congress that will support the President’s agenda as we do to re-elect the President.
    The past 3 years have made it very obvious that a President cannot do it alone. We must work to minimize those “incredible odds.”

  3. Submitted by TJ Jones on 09/08/2011 - 03:21 pm.

    One question – what “incredible odds” is RT talking about? This is a President who had a Democratic house and Senate the first two years of his presidency! He held ALL the cards! Unbelievable….

  4. Submitted by Lauren Maker on 09/08/2011 - 04:16 pm.

    Boy, that should really help the Democrats with the labor unions!

  5. Submitted by Madeline Anderson on 09/08/2011 - 09:13 pm.

    Sorry to shout but, HELLO RT? You saw what happened to Tim Pawlenty when he had eyes on bigger things? The rest of us got screwed.

    Are you going to do the same? Hate to tell be the first person to clue you in but Obama has been a disaster.

    What the heck are you doing chasing this when you should be governing our city?

  6. Submitted by Madeline Anderson on 09/08/2011 - 09:15 pm.

    “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.”

    If RT really believes these things, then I am really, really discouraged.

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