Raymond Thomas "R. T." Rybak, Jr. (born November 12, 1955) is an American politician, journalist, businessperson, and activist who served as the 46th mayor of Minneapolis. In the 2001 election Rybak defeated incumbent Sharon Sayles Belton by a margin of 65% to 35%; the widest margin in city history for a challenge to an incumbent. He took office in January 2002, and won a second term in November 2005 and a third in November 2009. In late December 2012, he announced he would not run for another term and was going to be concentrating on his family. Rybak called being mayor his "dream job."
Before being elected mayor, Rybak worked in journalism, business and activism. The first mayor of a large U.S. city to endorse Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for President, Rybak is one of five Vice Chairs of the Democratic National Committee.
Rybak grew up in Minneapolis, the son of Lorraine Ann (née Palmer) and Raymond Thomas Rybak, a pharmacist. He is of part Czech descent. He graduated from Breck School in 1974 and from Boston College in 1978.
After returning to Minneapolis, in the 1970s and '80s Rybak worked as a journalist for the Minneapolis Tribune. He became managing editor of the Twin Cities Reader, where he also launched Q Monthly, a local gay and lesbian newspaper. For a few years, he headed Internet Broadcasting Systems, which started as an online division of Minneapolis television station WCCO and runs websites for many stations across the United States. Rybak did consulting work as an Internet strategist, and assisted some projects with Minnesota Public Radio and Public Radio International.
He also acted as Development Director for Minneapolis's Downtown Council. During this time, Rybak also worked as a community and political activist. In 1994, he was campaign manager for Tony Bouza, the former Minneapolis chief of police who unsuccessfully sought the DFL nomination for Governor of Minnesota. Rybak was an early member of the group ROAR ("Residents Opposed to Airport Racket"), which campaigned for noise mitigation projects in neighborhoods around the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. The group staged a memorable "pajama protest," where area residents wore their nighttime clothes at the airport to show that they were losing sleep because of airplane noise.
Rybak also serves on the Board of Directors of Nice Ride Minnesota, a public bicycle sharing program.
In 2001 Rybak (57,739 votes for 64.69%) defeated incumbent Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton (30,896 votes for 34.61%), the first African-American and first female mayor of the city.
Rybak's mayoralty dealt mostly with lowering crime, creating jobs, building affordable housing, and balancing the City's budget. He attended public events in the city on a regular basis and participated directly in discussions of city issues on his Facebook page. He notably crowd-surfed while mayor, diving from the stage during a "Rock for Democracy" event at the popular Minneapolis club First Avenue in July 2004.
In 2002, Rybak developed the City of Lakes Loppet, a 35-kilometer urban cross-country ski race through Theodore Wirth Park and across Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, which ends on the streets of the Uptown Minneapolis. The event attracts nearly 2000 skiers. Rybak is a skier and has participated in races.
Rybak made many public appearances at rallies and protests. In April 2004 he spoke to a rally of striking Metro Transit workers at the Hennepin County Government Center plaza. Like many Twin Cities politicians, he marched in the annual Twin Cities Pride Parade.
In his 2005 re-election campaign Rybak defeated challenger (and fellow DFLer) Peter McLaughlin by nearly 25 percentage points, 61.47% to 36.72% (43,198 votes for Rybak and 25,807 votes for McLaughlin.) He celebrated with another crowd-surf.
In August 2007, after the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge, Rybak asked Governor Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota state officials to implement its replacement, ensuring that the new bridge would be capable of handling mass transit. Rybak pushed to ensure that future needs and policy considerations should not be ignored in the rush to build a replacement. His leadership resulted in a bridge plan which included improvements to carry a future light rail line. Rybak was quoted as saying, "we (the City) have a vision that we believe will be for a bridge that will serve us for many years to come." His role also involved authorizing municipal consent of the final bridge replacement.
Rybak was listed as a finalist for the 2008 World Mayor award. In June 2008 Rybak was elected Vice President for Communications of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.
According to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rybak was the first mayor of a large U.S. city to endorse the presidential campaign of Illinois Senator Barack Obama in 2007. Rybak campaigned on Obama's behalf and was active in the youth wing of the campaign.
In January 2009, Rybak announced his intention to run for re-election as Mayor in the 2009 Minneapolis City Council elections.
In March 2009, Rybak proposed eliminating the Minneapolis Civil Rights Investigations Division, which investigates discriminatory practices and was established in 1967 as part of the city's Civil Rights Department. The move was met by opposition from the community, with both the DFL African American Caucus and the Minneapolis Urban League speaking out against the plan. During his tenure as mayor, Rybak has gone through six civil rights directors and has decreased the number of workers in the department.
On November 3, 2009, Rybak was elected to a third term as mayor, winning more than 73.6% of the first-place votes.
Rybak's office regularly uses social media, often using it to alert followers to vital city information. He uses Twitter too.
Rybak chose not to run for a fourth term as mayor. His third term ended on January 2, 2014, when Betsy Hodges was sworn in as the city's new mayor. Since leaving office, Rybak has been the Executive Director of Generation Next, an organization seeking to help close the achievement gap for minority students.
2010 gubernatorial campaign
On November 5, 2009, Rybak filed paperwork creating a campaign for governor of Minnesota. A month later, he officially announced his candidacy at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. Rybak won the straw poll on February 2, 2010, at Minnesota's precinct caucus events statewide.
On April 24, 2010, Rybak withdrew his name from consideration for the DFL nomination at the convention after six ballots. Rybak endorsed Margaret Anderson Kelliher, and called on Democrats remaining in the race to withdraw and support her. Former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton subsequently won the Democratic nomination and the general election that year.
Living Cities, a philanthropic collaborative of 22 foundations and financial institutions, reported that Rybak was hired in May 2014 as a senior advisor for municipal practice. Living Cities members include Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley.
In September 2011, Rybak became vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Rybak lives in the city's East Harriet neighborhood with his wife, Megan, and their children, Charlie and Grace. The Rybak children have attended Breck School, an Episcopal private school which he had attended. His mother had worked there during a difficult period in his childhood. Rybak was awarded the "Distinguished Alumnus" award from Breck in 2002, and spoke at the school's commencement ceremony in 2015.
On January 4, 2014, the former mayor was cross country skiing when he started experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath. He was hospitalized and received an angioplasty and stents after it was determined he had a heart attack. Heart problems run in his family.