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Big Minneapolis mayoral question: Will Rybak endorse?

Most agree that his would be the most meaningful endorsement of them all, but Rybak is staying mum.

Mayor R.T. Rybak has so far not endorsed any of the candidates vying to succeed him in office.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen

Many of the candidates for mayor of Minneapolis have an impressive list of supporters.

Mark Andrew, for example, has the support of a large number of unions, not to mention such big-name pols as former Vice President Walter Mondale and former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

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Betsy Hodges has the likes of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and State Sen. Scott Dibble in her corner, as well as such organizations as Emily’s List and the Sierra Club.

Jackie Cherryhomes has the support of former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion.

And on and on.

But Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is playing it cool. To date, he’s not endorsed any of the candidates — and he’s not even said whether he’ll make an endorsement at all prior to the Nov. 5 election.

Rybak seen as biggest endorsement

Minneapolis Mayor's RaceAnd most agree that his would be the most meaningful endorsement of them all.

“That’s the one endorsement that would cut through all the noise,’’ says candidate Cam Winton, an independent in the field top-heavy with DFLers.

Winton’s observation is particularly interesting because he believes in this ranked-choice-voting race filled with at least a half-dozen viable candidates, endorsements don’t mean as much as in the more traditional two-candidate races of the past.

Rybak has said he’s focusing on completing his third term with his nose to the grindstone, and his staffers said he would not comment on any endorsement plans. At least to date, he seems to think that by involving himself in the politics of this campaign, he’d be diminishing the importance of his own agenda.

He has dropped hints about whom he favors. Given the flattering remarks he’s made about both Hodges and Don Samuels, two council members with whom Rybak has worked closely, it does appear that if he endorses the endorsement would fall to one of those two.

Looking for hints

Seeking hints as to which of those two it would be?  Good luck.

The mayor’s mother, Lorraine Rybak Mesken, has said she’s supporting Samuels.

On the other hand, at least two of the mayor’s staff people, communications director John Stiles and policy head Peter Wagenius, are supporting Hodges.

Rybak has worked closely with Hodges on the unglamorous work of putting the city’s fiscal house in order. But Hodges was a strong opponent of what likely is Rybak’s legacy work, putting city money (through extension of the Convention Center sales tax) into the construction of the Vikings stadium.

Rybak not only has warm regards for Samuels, but the two also have worked closely on public safety issues, especially in regards to children. But in singing Samuels praises, Rybak has questioned whether Samuels “has the discipline’’ to work in “a strategic way.’’ Samuels did not respond to a request for comment on the Rybak endorsement question.

But many of the candidates obviously believe that Rybak’s endorsement would have impact on a race that is so filled with so many candidates, chaos and even absurdity.

“He’s a role model for the modern mayor,’’ said Andrew, who has been subject of some of Rybak’s harshest criticism.

Andrew added that Coleman also fits that description. He talks about their enthusiasm and willingness to work with broad sections of the community.

Even Winton, who is running without a party label, speaks glowingly of Rybak’s three terms.

“He’s done a strong job with remarkable enthusiasm,’’ Winton said.

Winton doubts other endorsements’ value

Rybak’s endorsement would matter, Winton believes. But the rest of the endorsements don’t mean much, he adds.

“It may seem counter-intuitive, but I think in a race like this, endorsements mean less than ever,’’ Winton said. “What I’ve found is that residents are looking for fresh thinking. … The endorsements? I think people are hearing, ‘I’ve been endorsed by this insider. I’ve been endorsed by this insider.’ It all sounds like noise.’’

At the same time, it should be noted that Winton was quick to supply a list of a cross section of lesser-name DFLers, Republicans and independents who are supporting his campaign.

Both Andrew and Hodges are of the belief that in a field so chaotic, endorsements may mean more than in the past.

“I know in my case [the list of endorsements] signal that I’m the most progressive candidate in the field,’’ Hodges said. “I think when people do their homework and look at the endorsements, those endorsements will send a message about who I am.’’

The endorsements of organizations, she said, are vital because organizations are a source of boots-on-the-ground volunteers, vital in a campaign in which there might be so much confusion.

Andrew agreed with Hodges on the importance of endorsements, particularly in this campaign.

“With so many in the race, the endorsements become a benchmark,’’ Andrew said. “If you get an endorsement from a well-known individual, it helps people identify who you are.’’

An unusual campaign

On all levels, this is an extraordinary campaign.

There is humor.

For example, Winton laughed about one of the race’s comic characters, Captain Jack Sparrow, who wears his pirate uniform complete with plastic sword to all events.

“Hey,’’ Winton said of Captain Jack, “he’s the only one with 100 percent name recognition. I have to admire his commitment. Even at the State Fair, when it was so hot, he was wearing his full pirate costume.’’

The campaign also defies such things as racial stereotypes.

For example, Samuels, who is black, never has had the support of many of the city’s old guard of black activists. Instead, black political leaders and groups are scattered.

Andrew lists the support of state Sen. Jeff Hayden, deputy majority leader of the Senate, and of Somali Public Radio. Cherryhomes has Sayles Belton and Champion in her corner. Hodges has civil rights champion Josie Johnson, former City Council Member Ralph Remington and the DFL’s African American Caucus in her corner.

Add to the confusion the fact that all candidates are seeking to be the second or third choice of voters who have a strong No. 1 preference.

And then, there’s Rybak. Will he or won’t he?

“Anyone would want his endorsement,’’ Hodges said. “But I don’t know what he’s going to do. We’re just running our campaign.’’