Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak alluded to the movement behind Barack Obama as the Democrat began his own campaign for Minnesota governor Sunday, telling supporters his success would be their victory.
Rybak, one of the president's earliest backers, hopes some of that Obama campaign energy will help him stand out in a crowded field. Eleven Democrats and seven Republicans are in the running, with incumbent GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty moving on.
The 54-year-old mayor has promised to end his campaign if the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party backs another candidate. The DFL will endorse a gubernatorial candidate at its convention in April.
Rybak launched his campaign Sunday afternoon at the Varsity Theater near the University of Minnesota campus where he was cheered on by hundreds of supporters.
Rybak said he would make job creation the centerpiece of his agenda. He also promised to improve the state's schools, transportation and health care systems.
Rybak told the crowd the difficult economy calls for big changes in how the state delivers services and handles the budget.
Our goal is nothing short than taking back this state.”R.T. Rybak
"We are not going to get out of this with small plans," said Rybak. "If I would have come in eight years ago to the city of Minneapolis and said I was going to lower crime, create jobs, do sweeping improvements in transporation, do great things for kids, but also pay down millions of dollars in debt, people would have said I was crazy. But we did it."
"Our goal is nothing short than taking back this state," Rybak said. "We're going to win this election and we are going to turn this state around."
Whether Obama will return Rybak's support is unclear. Campaign manager Tina Smith said Rybak met privately with Obama Wednesday at the White House. Smith wouldn't say whether Rybak asked for Obama's endorsement, but said they discussed the mayor's campaign focus on jobs.
Rybak is leaning on some of Obama's organization as he campaigns around the state, including a 12-city tour starting Tuesday that will take him to colleges in St. Cloud, Moorhead, Duluth and Mankato.
Carl Holmquist, one of Obama's volunteer organizers in Minnesota, said he and other veterans of Obama's campaign will work for Rybak. Holmquist said the mayor has the energy and vision to win a statewide campaign.
"R.T. worked harder than anybody in the state, including myself, to get him (Obama) elected," said Holmquist, 47, of Minneapolis. "He worked as hard as possible and he went across the state."
Rybak is beginning his third term as mayor of the state's biggest and most liberal city. Republicans made it clear they will watch his campaign closely, with party officials attending the kickoff and posting a stream of Twitter messages attacking Rybak's record.
Property taxes and fees have gone up during Rybak's tenure; the mayor blames Pawlenty's cuts in state aid to cities for the increases. Rybak claimed credit for cutting spending and taking steps to reduce crime and put people to work.
The City Council is due to vote Monday on his proposed 2010 budget, which would cut $100 million from a $1.4 billion budget.
His biggest test as mayor was the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge, which killed 13 and injured more than 140. Rybak consoled grieving families and urged state transportation officials to slow the push for a replacement bridge to consider traffic rerouting and future mass transit possibilities. He also urged an increase in the federal gas tax to repair bridges.
"People have seen me perform and do great things for people even in very tough times," Rybak told reporters after his speech. "They've seen me in crises like when the bridge collapsed, but they've seen me in quieter times get results."
Rybak grew up in Minneapolis. He is a former newspaper reporter, downtown development director and alternative weekly publisher. He was also a community organizer against airport noise, a potent issue in the city's southern reaches.
He unseated Democratic incumbent Sharon Sayles Belton in his first campaign in 2001, and easily won re-election in 2005 and last month.
The mayor filed paperwork for a gubernatorial campaign two days after his re-election in November. State regulators immediately punished him for using mayoral campaign funds to further his bid for governor, ordering his gubernatorial campaign to reimburse his mayoral campaign $26,500.