Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak kicked off his campaign for reelection Saturday morning, and along with 150 supporters, discussed his plans to improve safety, opportunity, education and infrastructure in the city.
But his best-known opponent in the mayoral run, DFLer Bob Miller, director of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, has some different ideas about how the city should be run, including decentralizing the power in the mayor’s office.
Looking for a change
Miller has been Director of the NRP since 1992 , a program that gathers residents to create goals and strategies to improve Minneapolis’ neighborhoods.
As director of NRP for 16 years, Miller is the longest-serving department head in Minneapolis city government. Under his direction, the program has received several national awards.
Miller has been an outspoken critic of the city’s new direction with the program, which will eliminate the current NRP body and replace it with a department that answers to the city coordinator.
“It’s an expenditure that I don’t think is going to be productive,” he said. “I would look at providing resources to residents for investment in their neighborhood…it’s going to build participation and hope in the neighborhoods and commitment to stay in the city.”
The way the city manages its funds is the biggest issue with the budget crisis, Miller said.
He said he wouldn’t use the entire Legacy Fund, the city’s internal $40 million endowment, to support infrastructure projects, which Rybak has proposed to do.
“I think they should be retaining those dollars to help with the shortfall,” he said. “I’ve managed millions and millions of dollars in resources and done it pretty well.”
Miller said he thinks there is too much power in the mayor’s office, and would like to see more power given back to the residents of Minneapolis.
He also wants to increase the amount of jobs and companies coming into the city, address the housing situation and establish pre-kindergarten education for children.
Miller said he would consolidate several city and county functions to save money, a move he also thinks would improve some functions.
Doug Walter, associate director of the Nakomis East Neighborhood Association , said Miller has a “tremendous” understanding of the entire city after working with NRP for 16 years.
“I personally don’t think our current mayor has a lot of depth,” Walter said. “He is a great cheerleader for the city, but I don’t think he has the skill set needed to manage a city of this size.”
Rybak, who took office in 2002, said he’s been through a lot with the city. During his time as mayor, the city has seen a budget crisis, challenges with crime and the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge .
“I have been able to help bring out the best of the people in this incredible city and get things done,” he said. “I’ve been about vision, but I’ve also been about results.”
But Rybak said he isn’t running his campaign on his track record, but his four goals for the city: reducing crime, improving infrastructure, education and creating economic opportunity in the city.
However, Rybak will be campaigning for reelection while he has to make cuts to Minneapolis’ 2009 budget.
On Jan. 27, Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed to cut local governments by more than $99.6 million in 2009. Minneapolis alone could be cut by $17 million this year.
“At this period of time, especially, we need to continue a focus on creating opportunity in the city while navigating through tough waters,” he said. “I’ve shown I can do it, and I want to do it again.”
Rybak, who was a strong supporter of President Barack Obama t hroughout his campaign, plans on using his connections in Washington to bring stimulus dollars to Minneapolis.
Rybak announced a new initiative last week to use funds from a federal stimulus to launch an initiative to create dozens of green jobs by training workers to weatherize 800 homes in Minneapolis.
“The old way of doing things has literally run out of gas,” he said. “America needs to make a dramatic shift into an economy that is less dependent on oil and more connected to the place we live.”
Barbara Johnson, President of the City Council, said that Rybak has experience dealing with budget issues and has helped to pay off about $85 million in debt as mayor of Minneapolis.
“But his best quality is his engaging personality,” she said. “He pulls people along with his enthusiasm for Minneapolis and continues to see that it is a great city.”