Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has formed a political action committee that will allow him to raise money and donate it to candidates for state office in Minnesota.
The formation of the wryly named RYPAC comes at a time when the political establishment in Minneapolis is waiting for Rybak to announce whether he'll seek a fourth term as mayor.
Rybak is popular in his hometown; he's won each of his three terms in a landslide. But he hasn't decided yet whether he'll run again.
He told reporters last week that between campaigning on behalf of President Obama, nominating a new police chief and shepherding the city budget, he hasn't had time to figure out his political future.
"I don't want to be coy about it or anything else, but I told people I'd have some decision by the end to the year, and I plan to take every bit of that time," Rybak said.
That uncertainty has left other potential candidates in a holding pattern. Council Member Betsy Hodges formed an official comittee last month so she can raise and spend money as she explores a bid for mayor. But she won't run against Rybak.
"If Mayor Rybak runs in 2013, I will support him," said Hodges.
Minneapolis School Board Member Hussein Samatar and former City Council Member Jackie Cherryhomes have said much the same thing. They're seriously considering running, but not if Rybak does.
And then there's Council Member Gary Schiff. Unlike the other potential candidates, Schiff said he'd consider running against Rybak, and he held a fundraiser last week for his own mayoral exploratory committee.
"I'm looking forward to helping to create jobs," said Schiff. "I'm looking forward to making sure that when the city invests that local people get those jobs. And I'm looking forward to doing this all with you."
Schiff has been Rybak's chief critic on the City Council, opposing him on a variety of issues including the new publicly subsidized stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Schiff said that could be an issue in the mayoral election, which will take place in November 2013.
"When the city of Minneapolis contributes up to $890 million for a business owner out of state just to keep an existing business in downtown, you have to ask: What are we doing for small businesses?" Schiff said.
Schiff said he'll decide next month whether to jump in the race. That gives him an opportunity to wait and see what Rybak decides to do first.
It's clear that Rybak has ambitions for higher office, given that he ran unsuccessfully for the DFL gubernatorial endorsement two years ago. But ironically, his options are limited by the DFL's dominance in state politics, according to University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs.
"A lot of the avenues he might pursue are cut off," said Jacobs. "You've got Democrats in both senator positions. Mark Dayton appears to be running for re-election. So where would R.T. go?"
One possibility could be a job in Washington, But Rybak's options there are limited, too.
Earlier this month, President Obama gave U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida the nod to stay on as chair of Democratic National Committee. As one of five party vice chairs, Rybak might have had a shot at the top spot.
Rybak also had a public role in President Obama's re-election campaign, which is the kind of thing that could help him get a job in the Obama administration.
But Jacobs said being the mayor of a mid-sized Midwestern city probably wouldn't qualify Rybak for a Cabinet-level appointment -- maybe one that's more like middle management.
"A lot of mayors get parked in Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, and we've actually had some mayors from Minnesota who've kind of gotten parked deep down in the bureaucracy," Jacobs said. "It's not very flamboyant. And for someone like R.T., it's not necessarily an attractive option."
Given that, Jacobs said the most likely option would be for Rybak to either run for a fourth term and aim to become the city's longest-serving mayor, or pursue something in the private sector.
One thing's for certain, said Jacobs: If Rybak decides not to run for re-election, next year's mayor's race will be a free-for-all.