BOISE — Boise mayoral candidates, meeting Thursday for one of the first times as a group, took on some of the most pressing questions on voters’ minds — and each other.
Mayor David Bieter criticized City Council President Lauren McLean for not attending Valley Regional Transit meetings until a few months ago. Adriel Martinez chastised the current administration for spending money to promote a kindness initiative. Ada County Highway District President Rebecca Arnold sparred with Bieter on whether ACHD should exist at all.
In a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and the City Club of Boise held at the Library at Hillcrest, candidates presented their stances on the issues while also taking shots at the past decisions of others.
One repeated topic of contention was the new proposed library, which has been delayed. Brent Coles, who was mayor of Boise from 1993 until 2003 when he was charged with misusing public money, agreed with Arnold and Martinez in their criticism of members of the current administration for being willing to spend millions of dollars on a library.
Candidates were also asked if they planned to support Propositions 1 and 2, which ask voters if they’d like a future vote on library projects costing more than $25 million and stadium projects costing more than $5 million. The measures were brought forward by the community group Boise Working Together via signature initiative.
Coles, who helped Boise Working Together gather signatures, said he planned to vote yes. Martinez and Cortney Nielsen also said they supported both issues. Arnold said she supported the right of citizens to vote on large projects like the library and stadium because “the city worked pretty hard to find ways around having a vote” on the library, which she called a “vanity project.”
Bieter and McLean both said they did not support the initiatives. Bieter said he felt the ballot measures were unconstitutional, calling them both “poorly positioned.”
Another question asked candidates their stance on how to end homelessness and address housing insecurity in Boise, prompting a wide range of answers from candidates.
Nielsen said that in her experience, “homelessness is a choice,” and that arresting people could actually be a benefit because it could allow people to get “counseling, hypnotherapy, some form of direction.” Martinez said he would abolish the camping ordinance, which is at the center of Martin v. Boise, a case Boise is trying to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a lower court ruled it was unconstitutional for the city to prosecute people for sleeping in public when they have nowhere else to go.
Bieter pointed to the work the city has done on its Housing First initiatives, which focus on getting people who are homeless into a stable home and then providing them with necessary services. He argued that cities across the country, including Boise, have had dangerous and unsafe conditions because of homeless encampments, and he said the city needs to be able to cite people under its camping ordinance to avoid those conditions.
“We need to keep that ability while we go to work on other projects like we’re doing that really work,” Bieter said.
Arnold said the city needed to look at the cause of homelessness, such as mental health, and help people who are homeless with “a hand up, not a handout.” Coles said he felt the money the city was spending to pursue the Martin v. Boise appeal could better be spent supporting people who are homeless.
McLean said that she was against ticketing, saying there had to be alternative options.
“I do not see how putting people that are in dire economic situations into the criminal justice system helps them improve their situation,” she said. “I believe that we can do better, and we can do more.”
Candidates also discussed transportation, agreeing it needed to be improved although no one could agree on how to better it. They floated ideas from a 24-hour bus system to a commuter train to take people from the suburbs around Boise into the city’s downtown.
They also talked about the possibilities of F-35A fighter jets being stationed at Gowen Field. Martinez and Coles supported the idea, while Arnold, McLean and Nielsen all spoke against it. Bieter said he supported having an Air National Guard mission locally and if that meant having F-35s, he wanted to make sure it had “the least effect on our community.”
Wayne Richey did not attend the forum because of previous commitments, organizers said.
The election is Nov. 5.