MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- As Sharon Sayles Belton seeks a third term as mayor of Minnesota's largest city, she has some good things to show voters: low crime, growing population and a healthy economy despite slowdowns elsewhere.
But less than a year after she served as co-chair of the committee that drafted the platform for the 2000 Democratic National Convention, Democrats last weekend skipped a chance to endorse Sayles Belton.
Suddenly, the city's first black and first woman mayor appears vulnerable to challengers who complain about high housing costs, traffic congestion and a falloff in basic services.
Sayles Belton ran second in the convention balloting. Internet consultant and neighborhood activist R.T. Rybak had 49 percent to her 48 percent before the delegates broke without an endorsement.
The failure to receive 60 percent approval means Sayles Belton will face a September primary fight against several opponents without the advantages of money, manpower and momentum conveyed by the endorsement. Whoever emerges from the Democratic field is likely to be the next mayor; Minneapolis hasn't had a Republican mayor since 1961.
Steve Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in nearby Northfield, said Sayles Belton wasn't prepared for the convention and was hurt by activists who dominated the meeting.
"But the city is in pretty good shape, and it would be an amazing thing were she to be thrown out," Schier said.
Despite its strong points, Minneapolis is not what it used to be for some in Sayles Belton's party.
"Growing up in South Dakota, the big deal was to come to the big city -- which for us was Minneapolis -- and go downtown for the day," said Scott Mayer, a convention delegate. "It had something for everyone."
Mayer, who would not say who he supports in the race, has been dismayed by some projects. He points to a city-subsidized entertainment complex on Hennepin Avenue -- complete with movie theater and upscale arcade -- that he believes could have been better used for green space or a library.
Allan Spear, a delegate who supports Sayles Belton, says many party activists resent the mayor for what they see as an emphasis on corporate projects over neighborhoods -- in particular a $66 million subsidy for a downtown Target Corp. headquarters.
Sayles Belton, who co-founded a women's shelter before getting elected to the City Council in 1983, said she has balanced business development with her other priorities, such as promoting affordable housing.
"There are people who believe that the city overall has made progress, and then there are others who are concerned about individual events," she said.
The city is growing again after a long period of decline and suburban flight. Minneapolis' population grew 3.9 percent in the last 10 years, a period when other Midwestern cities, such as Milwaukee and St. Louis, shrank.
"People are choosing to live in Minneapolis, and I feel good about that," Sayles Belton said.
Sayles Belton is handicapped by a perceived lack of charisma, especially compared to Norm Coleman, the Republican mayor across the river in St. Paul. Critics say Sayles Belton has never used her bully pulpit as well as Coleman has.
"She is not dynamic and charismatic, and a (weak-mayor) setting like in Minneapolis accentuates that," said Hy Berman, a history professor at the University of Minnesota. "But individuals have transcended that. Norm Coleman has done it in St. Paul, as have a number of mayors in Minneapolis."
Rybak and the other top Democratic contender, City Council member Lisa McDonald, plan to hammer on the theme that Sayles Belton should be doing more.
"I think the delegates felt pretty good about Sharon, but they want dynamic, energetic leadership," Rybak said. "My main message was that Minneapolis is doing OK, but this is not an OK town. This is a great city."
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