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Rybak celebrates after defeating then-mayor Sharon Sayles Belton in 2001

Rybak appears at his election headquarters on September 11, 2001, after garnering the most votes in the DFL primary (Jeff Wheeler)

Mayor R.T. Rybak said Thursday that he will likely endorse a candidate in the race to succeed him at City Hall, but not for "a long time."

"I want to watch this campaign develop because there are a number of folks in this race who I think could be a really good mayor," Rybak said in one of his first extended interviews about the battle for his seat. The three-term mayor was conspicuously absent earlier this month at the DFL convention, which ended without an endorsement.

"Betsy Hodges, I fought in the trenches with on some of the most complicated issues that we've had here – including getting the budget straightened out,” Rybak said. “Mark Andrew, I agree with on a lot of issues. Don Samuels has been one of the closest people to me politically and personally, both he and his wife to me and my wife. And there are others in this race, too.

“So I am going to have an open door. Anybody who wants to come in and talk, we can talk. But I’m not going to be … stating my preference in the race for a while."

Rybak said he hopes that some of his policies will continue after he leaves, though he thinks “it's important for people ... to not be looking for a clone of me.”

The mayor, who was a political neophyte when he challenged incumbent Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton in 2001, said his lack of connections entering office was “the most important part of this job.”

“The ability to walk into my office and, because of the way I got here, not be tied to people, made it possible for me to make tough independent decisions,” Rybak said. “They weren't always popular, but it was pretty easy to combat anybody who said ‘You did that because so and so supported you,’ because the people who supported me pretty much never come down here and ask for anything."

The winner of this year’s election includes few candidates who would have that luxury. Nearly all of them have held office for extended periods. Independent Cam Winton and DFLer Stephanie Woodruff are two exceptions.

Rybak also warned against supporting a candidate based on their stance on specific issues. He noted that the issues that were “active” during his first election were very different than what he actually dealt with after September 11 and the city’s budget crisis becoming public. The 2001 DFL primary was held on September 11.

"You're not electing a punch card that says yes or no to the things you happen to agree with,” Rybak said. “You're electing somebody who can have a value system that can make a judgment that hopefully fits your values when you're presented information in the mayor's office that maybe some people never get."

While the mayor has remained publicly neutral, his staff has not. Three of his aides were actively supporting Hodges at the DFL convention, and another was there in support of Samuels.