Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, usually the consummate team player, put the internal intrigues of the Democratic Party on the front pages of the New York Times Friday — by questioning whether the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee has “the capacity’’ to do the job.
But what’s as interesting as what Rybak told Times reporter Maggie Haberman is why he acted as he did, when he did. Rybak, for all his peppy enthusiasm and quick-to-smile style, is a calculating pol. He does not do knee-jerk reaction interviews with New York Times reporters.
(It should be noted that a Rybak spokeswoman responded to a MinnPost request for an interview with this: “R.T. isn’t doing any political interviews today. Thanks for reaching out.”)
Here’s a summary of what led to Rybak becoming the focus of the Times story:
For months, some members of the DNC, including Rybak and Hawaii U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, have been critical of the low number of debates that will be held by Democratic Party presidential candidates. (The party will have six debates, compared to 26 leading up to the 2008 election, the last time an incumbent wasn’t on the ballot.)
Critics, including Rybak and Gabbard, have pointed fingers at U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is chairwoman of the DNC, for not consulting other DNC officers in creating the minimalist debate schedule.
On Oct. 5, Gabbard, in a television interview, again called for more debates and was critical of unilateral decisions coming from Wasserman Schultz’s office. Wasserman Schultz responded by saying in interviews that Gabbard had made “flat-out untrue statements.’’
The party chairwoman said she had consulted DNC officers about the debate schedule. Then, she barred Gabbard from attending the first debate, held Tuesday night in Las Vegas. Wasserman Schultz said that Gabbard’s attendance at the debate would be a “distraction.”
All of this probably would have passed as just more ho-hum inside political baseball. But then Rybak stepped up and did the Times interview.
“This is not a back-and-forth between a chair and a vice chair,” said Rybak. “This is the chair of the Democratic Party wrongly stating that she consulted with all party officers. I was not consulted. I know that Tulsi Gabbard was not consulted. This is becoming about much more than debates. . . . .The fact is for many months we have been trying to get the chair to open up and include many more people. . . . I am seriously questioning whether she has the capacity to do what has to be done.’’
It’s hard to imagine that Rybak simply picked up the phone and called a New York Times reporter because he was miffed. He knew that by essentially placing this story in the Times, it would create a firestorm on the cable news networks and among political pundits of all media.
Rybak is connected to the White House. He got his position as a vice chairman of the DNC because he was among the first in the country to endorse candidate Barack Obama for president.
In fact, his early support for the president was a theme in Rybak’s nomination letter to be a DNC vice chairman in 2011. “Mayor Rybak was the first mayor of a large U.S. city to endorse President Obama’s campaign in 2007,” the letter said. “He is a strong voice for mayors within the party and an incredible surrogate for the President and Democrats.”
It’s probably worth noting who wrote that letter: Debbie Wasserman Schultz.