A few things to understand about R.T. Rybak’s criticism of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
R.T. Rybak: "This is not a back-and-forth between a chair and a vice chair. This is the chair of the Democratic Party wrongly stating that she consulted with all party officers. I was not consulted."

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.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/16/2015 - 03:06 pm.

    Bigger Context

    There has been a lot of dissatisfaction with Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s stewardship of the DNC. That dissatisfaction has been building for some time. It seemed to have been mostly from the left side of the party, but Mr. Rybak, consummate opportunist that he is, wisely sees that the dissatisfaction is becoming mainstream.

  2. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/16/2015 - 07:19 pm.

    Right or wrong, it is self-serving as far as RT goes.

    My biggest problem with Wasserman Schultz is her keeping Lawrence Lessig out of the first debate, but I am certainly not surprised. The number of debates doesn’t really matter when you exclude legitimate Democratic candidates.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/17/2015 - 12:37 pm.


    So why did he do it?

  4. Submitted by katie sabin on 10/18/2015 - 01:44 am.

    We need more debates

    I have been a democrat for over 40 years and this has been nothing less then a circus, we need more debates. I do not belong to a dictatorship nor will I. I have a 3 generation family of democrats that will drop out after after this election because we feel out votes will not matter any ways because the Democrats have rigged the the party.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/18/2015 - 07:18 am.


    It’s great to have answers, but it’s also important to apply them to the right questions. What is the purpose of debates? Is it to provide occasions for democracy in action? Is it to provide examples of fairness? Or is it to ultimately elect a Democratic president?

    The process by which Democrats choose their candidates is far from perfect. Rybak gripes about it, even I have been known to gripe about it. But for me as a voter and as an enabler of voters, what I demand from the process is that it produce the strongest Democrat possible for the general election, and once that’s done, it couldn’t matter less how that result was achieved.

  6. Submitted by Brian Krause on 10/18/2015 - 10:43 pm.


    Whether or not DWS keeps her position reveals the extent to which the Clintons control the party. Anyone that thinks the debate schedule is anything other than an attempt to make everyone in the party “Ready for Hillary!” without a real contest is fooling themselves. This is entirely about minimizing the challenge of Sanders and the potential challenge posed by Biden.

  7. Submitted by Rod Loper on 10/19/2015 - 09:03 am.


    The messaging on what the democrats stand for has been horrible under her leadership. More debates would help get the message out without censorship by centrists like her. Right now republicans dominate the discourse in the media. She should go.

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