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R.T. Rybak becomes mayor
By Art Hughes
Minnesota Public Radio
January 2, 2002
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A Minneapolis City Hall ceremony Wednesday installed a new mayor and a city council with more newcomers than veterans. Mayor R.T. Rybak promises an era of new openness and cooperation in city government. The day also included surprises, as the council selected its new leadership.

R.T. Rybak
R.T. Rybak takes the oath of office to become mayor of Minneapolis Wednesday.
See more images of the ceremony.
Listen to Rybak's inauguration speech.

(MPR Photo/Art Hughes)

With wife Megan and children Charlie and Grace by his side, Rybak raised his right hand and officially took over as the city's 46th mayor. Rybak's inaugural message promised a time of better public access to government, and called on elected officials to work cooperatively.

Rybak says because cities are so packed with people, they're the first to show problems in the way of crime and social decay. But he says Minneapolis works best when it turns such challenges into its strengths.

"Our commercial streets are best not when they are trying to imitate a bland suburban strip mall, but when they're given new life by immigrants and entrepreneurs, and the one-of-a-kind businesses you can find only in a truly diverse place," he said.

Rybak, a political newcomer, called for councilmembers to set aside any personal agendas to work together. He also asked the city's employees to remember who they serve.

"As you inspect that building, remember that the person you really work for is the single mother looking for an affordable place to live," Rybak said. "As you plow that street, remember the person you really work for is that elderly shut-in afraid to go out in the winter because he'll slip on the ice. As you write that manual, remember to write for the immigrant who's just learning our language."

Rybak, a DFLer, defeated two-term Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton in the November election. He portrayed no pessimism, but he acknowledges a difficult road ahead, as the city prepares to cut $5 million from its budget.

"We are coming into office in the wake of one of the most horrible tragedies this country has ever known. Our economy has slowed. Our city's budget has serious issues and so does our state's," he said.

Rybak says he'll address such problems over time with a series of initiatives in the coming months, beginning with a plan to create more affordable housing.

Robert Lilligren
Robert Lillegren, a newcomer to the Minneapolis City Council, was elected vice-president of the body Wednesday. Paul Ostrow was elected president.
(MPR Photo/Art Hughes)

Following the inauguration, the 13 newly-sworn city councilmembers elected their leadership. Returning Councilmembers Paul Ostrow and Barb Johnson each sought the council presidency. Ostrow won by a single vote. Ostrow's picks for two other key offices, however, were denied. Ostrow backed Lisa Goodman as vice-president, but - again - a single vote elected 8th Ward Councilmember Robert Lilligren.

Another closely-watched post is the chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Ostrow backed 13th Ward Councilmember Barret Lane, who has a head for numbers and is the architect of the last-minute budget plan that not only broke a deadlock, but won more council votes than the budget has gotten in years.

Because Lane is an independent, and not a Democrat, his nomination was fought by the city's DFL central committee. Instead, Barb Lane was chosen for the post. Ostrow called it a serious test of the city council.

"I know of no one better suited to the Ways and Means chair than Councilmember Lane. I do think it's unfortunate that Lane's appointment was politicized to the degree that it has been, merely because he is a political independent," Ostrow said.

The new councilmembers have orientation sessions the remainder of this week. Rybak got his first access to the mayor's office Wednesday morning, and says it will take a few days to get oriented. An inaugural ball is scheduled for Saturday.

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