MINNEAPOLIS — Having a conversation with R.T. Rybak in Minneapolis is like trying to have a sit-down dinner with Carson Wentz in a Philadelphia sports bar. You're just bound to be interrupted by fans.
Rybak, the eccentric former mayor of Minneapolis, who left office in 2014, knows everyone here. So when I sat down with the 63-year-old Democrat at the trendy Tattersall Distillery in northeast Minneapolis to talk about his beloved hometown over aquavit cocktails, we were stopped not once, not twice, but a half-dozen times by restaurateurs and tourism officials and distillers who weren't introducing themselves to the former mayor, but reconnecting with him.
This journalist-turned-politician is popular around here, a three-term mayor who, among other accomplishments, led the effort to bring this year's Super Bowl to Minneapolis, one of the coldest cities in America.
While munching on miniature lobster rolls Tuesday night, we talked about everything from President Trump (he doesn't like the guy), Eagles fans (he wishes they would have been nicer to Vikings faithful in Philadelphia), and his 90-year-old mother taking a ride on a zip line (he's glad he didn't accidentally kill her).
Below is our conversation, edited for brevity.
You say the great thing about Minnesota is its "theater of seasons." Nobody thinks about it like that, though.
You have to. And the thing I always say is: if you want Kabuki theater where nothing happens, go to San Diego. You know, we have the variety that puts you in these different seasonal moods. The thing that I don't think people get is this idea that if you're gong to have winter, go for it.
Funny you say that. The last story I wrote was about this "Bold North" campaign, the push to really go for it, and I know you've been an advocate of that as well.
Very, very much so. You know, one of the things about it is, my mom's from San Francisco, so I grew up without a lot of exposure to outdoor sports.
But you grew up here, right?
Yeah, all my life.
We're not all nice. When aren't we nice? When we lose a football game and people throw s– at us.
Yeah. I saw your tweet about hosting. Something about how it feels like you're tending bar at your ex's wedding.
I said we're very excited to host the Super Bowl, and I said it feels a little bit like bartending at your ex-girlfriend's wedding. After she dumped you. But I think people are over that.
The city bid for the Super Bowl under your administration. What's the chicken-egg relationship between the bid for the Super Bowl and the commitment to build the new stadium?
When we were going to build the stadium, there was an implied message from the NFL that they'd deliver a Super Bowl. So all along, that was part of it. But it wasn't just a promise. It was that Minnesota had been competing for and winning Final Fours and Super Bowls back 30 years ago. But our facilities weren't competitive in that realm anymore. Part of the rationale for building them was to get more competitive for a larger event.
What was the sentiment in the city when people found out you were a finalist?
[The last time Minneapolis hosted a Super Bowl in 1992], I think people thought we could do a really good job in spite of the winter. But this time, it was seen as really the coming-out party for the Bold North; that we weren't going to compete in spite of the winter, but we're going to make this all about winter. And some people would like it, and some people can go to hell.
So is there, like, a beef with the Midwest?
Think about the Midwest. The word. The middle of the West is Denver. So Midwest is the forgotten part of America, and Minnesota was the forgotten part of the Midwest. So that's pretty low on the food chain. In reality, we're the North.
You've talked a lot about Minneapolis' thriving immigrant community. Do you see that as happening in spite of the discourse in Washington?
Totally. We didn't just wake up to this. We've been at this.
You've been pretty outspoken against President Trump. What concerns you most?
I'm bothered by the hypocrisy from a person whose father and wife came here as illegal immigrants. I'm more bothered by someone who doesn't understand the tremendous assets that have been brought to this community.
I have a couple fun things I want to chat about. Tell me about your mom doing the zip line.
Isn't that a riot? Totally her idea. She said, I really, really want to, so I finally said OK. So I got her a ticket, but then everybody was like freaking out at me. They were like, "Do not do this." This woman from my office came up to me and said, "You are responsible for your mother. If she dies, it's your fault." And I kept bringing this back to my mom, and she said, "What is the worst that could happen? If I die at 90 zip-lining, what a way to go."
What did she say after?
"Let's do it again."
Were you nervous?
Oh, my God, yeah. I was really nervous. She's like, "No big deal." But if something happened, the entire community would be like, "You killed your mom." Which is not, like, a small thing.
I've got to talk a little bit of football. Who do you have for Sunday?