MINNEAPOLIS -- Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton's bid for a third term was crushed Tuesday by a political novice who said he would to do more with less and be the salesman that Sayles Belton never was.
Sayles Belton, long criticized for her low-profile style, trailed R.T. Rybak by 20 points in one poll the week before the election. The deficit on election night was even greater; with all of the unofficial vote counted, Rybak had 65 percent to Sayles Belton's 35 percent.
"Do not be sad, be joyful because we have done great things for this city," Sayles Belton said in conceding.
She said she had called Rybak to let him know she would work with him to ensure a smooth transition.
In a speech to supporters, Rybak crowed, "Minneapolis, your future is about to begin!" But he also was gracious, thanking Sayles Belton for her work.
"This city owes a tremendous debt to Sharon Sayles Belton," he said. "She has done some great things in the past and she has a tremendous future, too."
Sayles Belton sought help from high places in the final days of her campaign, including Walter Mondale, Bill Clinton and Gloria Steinem, but big names apparently weren't enough.
"There's a new left in Minnesota," said Blois Olson, co-publisher of MN-Politics.com. Rybak is considered more liberal than Sayles Belton.
Olson said he was surprised by the wide margin.
"Anytime anybody loses by that much, if they are an incumbent, it shows just how weak they were," he said.
It was a difficult campaign for Sayles Belton, the city's first black and first woman mayor. Only a year ago, she was riding high as co-chairwoman of the Democrats' 2000 platform committee and was thought to be a potential appointee if Al Gore won.
But Gore lost, and a few months later, Sayles Belton was passed over for endorsement at a party convention. Some delegates said Sayles Belton was resented for what they saw as an emphasis on corporate projects over neighborhood development.
Two months after the convention, a city council ally of Sayles Belton stepped down and pleaded guilty to extorting money from a businessman. Though Sayles Belton is accused of no wrongdoing, she looked bad when the attorney she appointed to investigate the matter turned out to be a minor political donor of hers.
Sayles Belton emphasized her experience over that of Rybak, a former newspaper reporter, Internet consultant and community activist who outran her by almost 5,000 votes in the primary.
Rybak said he heard from voters that they wanted change and that compared with Sayles Belton he would be "more visible, able to do more with less and able to make strong, decisive decisions."
Anne Hacker, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mom who said she liked Rybak's "fresh ideas," supported Sayles Belton in two earlier campaigns, but not Tuesday.
"I think she's being more reactive than proactive in her approach to making decisions," Hacker said. She also said she thought the city spent too much supporting a downtown Target Corp. development under Sayles Belton.
One of Sayles Belton's staunchest allies on the city council, Jackie Cherryhomes, was narrowly defeated Tuesday.
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