Minneapolis, Minn. — After he was declared the winner, R.T. Rybak took the stage at the Ukrainian Events Center in Northeast Minneapolis to the cheers of R.T. by 300 supporters.
In front of teal balloons and campaign signs, the always energetic mayor looked relieved that a campaign that turned negative in recent weeks was over.
"Saturday I turned 50 years old and I just got the best present a guy could ever have," Rybak said."
Rybak spent a large part of the campaign defending his record on public safety. His challenger, fellow DFLer Peter McLaughlin, criticized Rybak for months, saying he wasn't doing enough to stem the city's rising violent crime rate. Rybak said he thought, at one point during the campaign, there was a chance he would lose because of the negative attacks.
Rybak said in the end voters rejected McLaughlin's criticism and attacks from the city's police union. Instead, he said, they wanted a mayor who had a positive vision for the city.
"In a world where too much about division, this city has once again said it is time to stay together, to come together and to move forward," Rybak said.
Support for Rybak was strong throughout the city but was most evident in neighborhoods surrounding the city's chain of lakes and around the University of Minnesota.
McLaughlin said he was disappointed with the outcome but believes his public safety message will make the city a safer place.
"When we kicked off this campaign, nobody thought we had a chance to get through the DFL convention, let alone get where we were tonight, competing for the office of mayor" McLaughlin said. "While we all would have wanted a different outcome tonight, this campaign has already changed the city of Minneapolis and it's because of the hard work you've done."
McLaughlin was relying on high voter turnout on the city's North Side, which has been plagued with public safety problems. Voter turnout in those precincts was much lower than the city's overall turnout of 31 percent.
McLaughlin's support from unions also failed to translate into enough votes. Every union in the city endorsed McLaughlin and yet he still received less than 40 percent of the total vote. In all, organized labor had a poor showing in the city's elections since many of the labor endorsed City Council candidates also lost. Rybak says he intends to work with the city's unions but won't heed all of their demands.
"You can't just say that you can pick a winner by going into the back room," Rybak said. "What you should do is look at the fact that if you have a mayor who's doing a good job for working people, don't try to take him on. Go out and do the tough work of trying to turn around this state and this country"
Some labor activists say Tuesday's outcome isn't a major setback. They say the city's unions will continue to be a dominant force in city and state politics. Clifford Poehler, treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, says the labor endorsement will always be valuable for candidates.
"I think at the end of the day, the Democratic Party will realize that the most important, most powerful part of the DFL is the L," Poehler said. "They will ignore it at their peril as they found it out in St. Paul with Randy Kelly."
Rybak says he hopes to have a closer relationship with the man who defeated Randy Kelly, St. Paul mayor elect, Chris Coleman. The two are scheduled to have lunch on Wednesday at a St. Paul restaurant.