Annual Firecracker of the Year Issue!
It was a beautiful sunny Monday afternoon. We should have been golfing. The phone rang on the main line here at World Headquarters in the Young Quinlan Building. Caller ID said it was the Minneapolis Club. “Hey, do you guys know anything about a Firecracker of the Year Award banquet that was supposed to be held today? We had a room reserved for 20 persons under the name of Ann Barkelew and the event listed as Firecracker of the Year banquet. When our servers went in to start beverage requests, there wasn’t a soul to be found. We waited more than a half hour, went back to the room, and all that was there was a tattered Red Owl grocery bag and what appears to be a rusted Arco coffee tin inside. We’re calling because you guys were listed as the contacts on the reservation.”
We drove over to the Minneapolis Club to fetch the bag and its contents. (We know, it’s only two blocks, but we love to pull in to the parking ramp at the Minneapolis Club and sign Walter Mondale’s name on the parking chit.) We brought the bag back to World Headquarters, popped the tin, unwrapped the now-too-familiar Peach sports section, and found our 20th message from this mysterious committee.
Yeah, we made you guys work a little bit to get this one, but our favorite Ukrainian couriers from Untiedts Farmers Market on the Mall have not been available. The rotten late spring and early summer weather has put a big damper on the availability of produce. Apologies to our friend and Firecracker Ann Barkelew, but we knew we could get a room reserved at the prestigious club if we bandied her name about.
This year’s nominees really can’t be lumped into one central theme. They all really hearken back to our original purpose: recognizing members of the community who do their all to make this little part of the world a better place. Our first nominee comes directly from the private sector. David Albersman, principal of Albersman & Armstrong, has made his professional mark in recent years as a designer of parking facilities, primarily those serving major airports around the world. Among his accomplishments in this arena has been the successful integration of rental car facilities with public short- and long-term parking. Mr. Albersman is collaborating with other consultants in the design of an adaptive use parking facility at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. The idea behind this is that eventually the structure can be converted to accommodate other uses as the need for parking diminishes. While it is hard to find work in his own backyard, David continues to forward the civic discussion about major land use issues here in Minneapolis, specifically in the Farmers Market area. He has become a one-man champion of a big vision for redevelopment that should occur as the Southwest LRT line is developed through the area. Our Committee hopes that sooner or later Mr. Albersman finds a government champion to partner with him in expanding and making this vision a reality.
Our next nominee, Kathie Constantine, is leaving the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney and her successful practice in the firm’s finance and restructuring department to accept an appointment by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit as a U.S. bankruptcy judge for the District of Minnesota. Across her prestigious career Ms. Constantine has overseen difficult and high-profile bankruptcy cases, both in Minnesota and across the country. She will be remembered at Dorsey for her firm leadership of the firm’s bankruptcy and financial restructuring practice group and for being an effective mentor as part of that firm’s aggressive diversity program. Our Committee knows she will bring great energy and incredible wealth of experience and insight into the bankruptcy bench.
Our third nominee also has considerable private sector experience which she has already converted into fabulous public service. State Senator Terri Bonoff—a DFLer who represents District 44, which is comprised of the cities of Plymouth and Minnetonka—is making a name for herself as a no-nonsense, willing to compromise to get the job done kind of legislator that the public has been crying out for. A throwback? Perhaps. This committee hopes it’s a “throw-forward.” Terri has deep roots in the area’s business community. Her grandparents and parents have operated successful businesses that many of you will recognize, including Justers, Jackson Graves, and, in recent years, Creative Kidstuff. Terri’s experience in family business and later at Tonka Toys does much to inform how she makes decisions regarding our state’s economy and the extent of taxpayers’ ability to shoulder financial responsibility for all of the problems facing our communities.
Senator Bonoff would also be quick to tell you that her family life as a mother, wife and daughter are also critical lenses through which she views her job. Last legislative session as chair of the Senate’s higher education and workforce training committee, Terri was credited with making considerable progress in restructuring finance with both a struggling economy and needed outcomes in mind. She has forged a no-nonsense relationship with University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler and observers feel that she will be a critical player as the University gets its own internal financial house in order. Senator Bonoff has suffered considerable slings and arrows from the state’s teachers union as a strong proponent of Teach for America. She is not afraid to push the discussion knowing that successful cooperative and coordinated outcomes will only benefit young students in need. As a political force Terri Bonoff waxed a once-popular former GOP state senator in her last legislative race even though the district has an extremely high Republican index. She stands as proof positive that if one’s ideals and sensibilities are in line with the voter base that they can enjoy a successful career in elected politics regardless of party designation.
Now on to our award winner. He is also a highly-celebrated public servant and as is often our wont a past nominee for this prestigious Firecracker award. We know that there will be groans among some of you in the Online publishing offices as you read that our Firecracker of the Year award goes to outgoing (in more ways than one) Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Students of Minneapolis government, especially the historians, will tell you that 12 years in that office is more than enough. Incumbents get lazy and more importantly disconnected from the people who elect them. The last two years of Mayor Rybak’s term have been anything but lackluster and/or ineffective. In fact they have been perhaps his most productive. With a stalled economy, a shrinking tax base, and no help in the form of local government aid from the legislature, two years ago Mayor Rybak took an educational campaign neighborhood-to-neighborhood across Minneapolis. He personally presented a simple budget exercise to promote understanding of the problems Minneapolis faces and stood willing to accept the sting of criticism from people of all quarters, those who thought the city is not doing enough as well as those who feel the city charges way too much to do what they do. This exercise has given the Mayor much-needed credibility and support as his office fashions its last budget for fiscal year 2014.
Like the outcome or not, Mayor Rybak went from zero to sixty last year, and was arguably one of the five individuals who can be credited for pushing the Metrodome replacement across the finish line at the legislature in 2012. The Mayor’s accomplishments at this year’s session may not have been as ballyhooed but perhaps represent his finest hour as a lobbyist and a negotiator. Rybak was able to get the attention of key legislators in the tax reform movement and strike a compromise which allowed for public moneys to large projects in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park as well as a “tax capture” plan to fund a vision for streetcars in downtown Minneapolis. Many of us on the Firecracker Committee believe that tax capture is merely lipstick on a pig we once called tax increment financing, but that does not take away from our admiration for somebody who can wade deep into a process and come out with exactly what he wants.
So, congratulations go to the Honorable R.T. Rybak, now the 20th recipient of our prestigious Firecracker of the Year Award. Along with the historic significance and the ability to call oneself a member of this unique fraternity, Maryor Rybak will receive the customary packet of Black Cat bottle rockets, with report.
Mayor Rybak is our 2013 Firecracker of the Year!
Previous Firecrackers of the Year:
Sam Grabarski, Lifetime Achievement, and Will Leer (2012); Todd Andrews (deceased, 2011); Kieran Folliard (2010); George Brophy (deceased, 2009); Arvonne Fraser, accepting on behalf of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Alivato (deceased), Rochelle Olson, Kathleen O’Brien, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Barbara Johnson, and Julie Kramer (2008); Joe Kimball, Lifetime Achievement, and Peter McLaughlin, accepting on behalf of Anita Duckor, Friends of the Minneapolis Library, Colin Hamilton, Sheldon Mains, Gary Thaden, Kit Hadley, Amy Ryan and John Gibbs (2007); Shane Nackerud (2006); Michael Opat (2005); Joe Baier and Julie J. “JJ” Haywood-Palmer (2004); Nick Koch (2003); Ann Barkelew (2002); Betsy Hodges (2001); David Barnhill (2000); Judy Zaitz (1999); Cornell Moore (1998); James Lileks (1997); Rick Stafford (1996); Coral Houle (1995); and Michael Rainville, The Original (1994).