Promise and pragmatism highlight Minneapolis inaugural

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Mixing hyperbole with humility, Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council Member Barbara Johnson took their places Tuesday at the helm of a City Hall hoping to move beyond four years of financial and ethical crises and embrace an ambitious social and economic agenda.

Rybak, speaking before an overflow crowd in the City Hall rotunda, called Minneapolis a “city of big dreams” and outlined the core values that will frame his second term. “The values that led us through tough times should always be at the center of our work,” he said. “The values that laid the groundwork for an ambitious agenda will allow Minneapolis to rightfully claim its place as the Great American City of our time. And we should settle for nothing less.”

Staying true to those values—a commitment to delivering good value to city taxpayers, closing the gap between the haves and the have nots, reweaving the urban fabric of the city, and laying the groundwork for the next generation—will require an efficient and creative government in lean financial times. “We believe in government, and we will run this government well, but we will run it for a reason,” he said. “This government will deliver a good value to our citizens, and we will do that by being a government with values.”

Rybak stressed the need to “close the gap” between rich and poor, noting the progress that has been made over the years in the strife-torn Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis, and hinting that similar efforts will be required to rebuild poverty- and crime-wracked pockets on the North Side. “Where there is disproportionate need, we will make disproportionate investment,” he said.

The mayor waxed poetic when describing his vision for a new “urban fabric.” He borrowed New Urbanist language when describing “an integrated collection of sustainable urban villages” all providing jobs and services within walking distance of everyone’s home. “If we do it right, we can create a way of life unmatched by any other city in America,” he said.

Finally, he emphasized the importance of investing in our children as the state struggles to remain competitive in the global economy. Minneapolis kids already are poised for this challenge, he said, as they “spend every day crossing cultural boundaries.”

It was, like most inaugural addresses, short on specifics and long on vision, a theme that was reversed later in council chambers, where Barbara Johnson, perhaps the city’s consummate power broker, won the council presidency with a show of organizational acumen that would put most CEOs to shame.

Weeks before Tuesday’s vote, Johnson began lobbying for the required seven votes, determined to avoid the political embarrassment of four years earlier, when shifting allegiances prevented her from ascending to the presidency. This time, the outcome was never in doubt (indeed, Johnson had moved into former President Ostrow’s office last week), as she prevailed by a unanimous vote.

As she claimed the gavel from council vice president Robert Lilligren, Johnson thanked her constituents, her colleagues, and her mother—the city’s first woman to serve as council president—but reserved special thanks for her predecessor, who had graciously stepped aside when ego and pride would have pushed most politicians to mount a vain (if futile) struggle. “I thank you for being such a gentleman through the transition,” she said.

The new slate of committee assignments, not surprisingly, also passed unanimously, with only one newcomer, Ward 13 CM Betsy Hodges, winning the chair of a major committee, Intergovernmental Relations (IGR). Scott Benson, who had chaired IGR the past four years, will head the new Health, Energy, and Environment Committee. Ostrow will lead the powerful Ways and Means Committee, while Don Samuels will succeed the outgoing Dan Niziolek as chair of Public Safety and Regulatory Services. Returning committee chairs Sandra Colvin Roy, Lisa Goodman, and Gary Schiff will head up Transportation and Public Works, Community Development, and Zoning and Planning, respectively.

Robert Lilligren will get a second four years as vice president, a post that lands him on the Executive Committee along with Johnson, Benson, and Green Party newcomer Cam Gordon. Scott Benson retained his role as majority leader.

Here are the full committee rosters:

Ways and Means: Ostrow, Schiff, Colvin Roy, Diane Hofstede, Elizabeth Glidden, Hodges.
Community Development: Goodman, Benson, Samuels, Ralph Remington, Gordon Lilligren.
Transportation and Public Works: Colvin Roy, Lilligren, Benson, Johnson, Hodges, Glidden.
Zoning and Planning: Schiff, Goodman, Samuels, Remington, Gordon, Colvin Roy.
Public Safety and Regulatory Services: Samuels, Ostrow, Hofstede, Johnson, Schiff, Gordon.
Health, Energy and Environment: Benson, Goodman, Hofstede, Gordon, Lilligren, Ostrow.
Intergovernmental Relations: Hodges, Remington, Hofstede, Glidden, Colvin Roy, Ostrow.
Taxes: Hofstede
Elections: Glidden
Rules: Remington
Claims: Goodman, Gordon, Benson, Colvin Roy, Johnson.

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