In the Spotlight

News & Features

National names dot local political landscape
By Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
September 3, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Campaign 2001
With a week to go before the Minneapolis mayoral primary, a couple of the front-running candidates are bringing in heavy hitters from the national Democratic party. Former Vice President Al Gore campaigned in Minneapolis for incumbent Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, and former U.S. senator and Gore's rival for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination Bill Bradley flew in for a rally for DFL mayoral candidate R.T. Rybak. The two other leading candidates say the national names don't represent any significant support on the local level.
Bill Bradley stumped for Minneapolis mayoral candidate R.T. Rybak on Sunday September 2.
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)

Bill Bradley's appearance in Minneapolis didn't seem to draw any new supporters for R.T. Rybak, a business consultant and former executive director of the Downtown Council.

Most of the nearly 100 people at the rally were in campaign shirts and nearly all of those at the rally, including Minneapolis resident Irene Jones, said they were already planning to vote for Rybak.

But Jones says she was still impressed by Bradley's support. "I think it's a great boost. I 'm really happy he's doing it. I think it's a big accomplishment, that he got sort of an unknown person before he got into this race, and to get a national presidential candidate to come and support him, I think that's great," Jones said.

Bradley's stop in Minneapolis was quick Sunday. A $200-a-plate brunch fundraiser was followed by the rally, held at the Whittier Neighborhood Center in Minneapolis.

Bradley arrived to a standing ovation. In a short speech, he praised Rybak, calling him "a courageous thinker who respects people."

"R.T. Rybak knows how to think. He has looked at our environment, and says it has to be preserved for our children and their children. He understands the complexities of clean water, and all the other issues related to our environment," Bradley said. "We were at another event earlier and as I was in the middle of my speech, a plane roared over and I said, 'If he's elected mayor we won't have this.'"

Bradley's referring to Rybak's support of the citizens group Residents Opposed to Airport Racket, or ROAR.

Rybak spoke at the campaign rally about the preservation of the city's lakes, citizen involvement in community issues, and housing.

"We need every one of us to be involved in affordable housing. I will be a mayor who will have this city put this at the top of our agenda. But it can't just be the city, it has to be faith communities, it has to be individuals. Pick up a hammer, write a check, find a homeless family. We all need to be part of the solution," Rybak said.

Rybak campaign volunteer Joe Barisonzi says Bill Bradley represents the perfect parallel to Rybak's campaign in the same way that Al Gore's support reflects Sharon Sayles Belton's mayoral campaign. "Gore was the establishment. Bradley was challenging the establishment with new fresh ideas. Sharon's the establishment, R.T.'s challenging the establishment with fresh new ideas, so I think there's a lot of parallels there," according to Barisonzi.

Rybak's supporters are hoping the analogy ends there. Bradley didn't win a single primary against Gore during the last presidential campaign.

There are more candidates than Sayles Belton and Rybak, 20 more, in fact, but two other candidates are usually mentioned along with Sayles Belton and Rybak; DFLer Lisa McDonald and Independent opponent Mark Stenglein.

Stenglein says says he's not planning to bring in any big names for his campaign. The political heavyweights he's counting on, he says, are the voters of Minneapolis.

"What's Al Gore going to do for the people of Minneapolis, or Bill Bradley? The people of Minneapolis want to elect a mayor that's going to lead. They're not voting for Al Gore or they're not voting for Bill Bradley," he said.

The word from Lisa McDonald's campaign is they believe neither Gore or Bradley's support reflect the strength of Rybak's or Sayles Belton's candidacy, but rather payback for the their local support during the 2000 presidential election. Gov. Ventura made a campaign appearance on behalf of McDonald earlier, and former Governor Arne Carlson is reportedly set to endorse Stenglein.