This editorial was published by the Idaho Statesman of Boise.
It may have gotten ugly toward the end, but Tuesday’s runoff election in the Boise mayor’s race is good for democracy.
In many ways, an ugly campaign is a bit of a rite of passage for a city that sees itself as a big city. The stakes are higher. The constituencies are greater and more varied. The disagreements more acute.
In a town that prides itself on its kindness, we hope that as Boise continues to grow, this is not something we’ll have to get used to. Based on Tuesday’s results, we feel the message was sent that negative campaigning is not going to go over well.
Ugly it did turn, with incumbent Mayor Dave Bieter throwing flames at his challenger, City Council President Lauren McLean. Remember, back in June, when Bieter said McLean running for mayor was “disappointing”? That seems so quaint now.
As the race progressed, even before the general election, Bieter took the gloves off at the end of one candidate forum, using his closing statement to say that McLean had “very little to show” for her years on council.
During the runoff, the city’s homeless camping ordinance — which Bieter supports defending to the U.S. Supreme Court, while McLean has said she opposes the ordinance — took center stage. Someone allegedly put up sleeping bags and tents where McLean had posted campaign signs. A mailer produced by a political action committee funded by developers Dave Wali and Gary Hawkins attacked McLean’s position on the issue, using a photo of a homeless encampment under the headline, “Lauren McLean’s Future Boise.”
We even had a late-night Twitter rant from City Councilor and Bieter supporter T.J. Thomson and an accusation that McLean volunteers were telling voters Bieter was in the “Basque Mafia.”
As negative and ugly as it may have turned, we have much to celebrate with such a vigorous campaign.
First of all, how wonderful to have six people challenging the incumbent. Imagine being a city of 230,000 where no one wants to be mayor. It’s a good sign when people want to step up and lead.
Further, with so many challengers and so many forums, debates, dueling press releases and news coverage, the issues came out.
Issues such as affordable housing, property taxes, the homeless camping ordinance, the stadium, the library, facial recognition software, F-35s, e-scooters, all got debated and examined during the lengthy campaign.
Elections truly bring out the issues that are most important to the voters. To see it in action is affirming.
In the end, the election, continuing on through the results of Tuesday’s runoff, seemed to be a referendum on the management style of Bieter, criticized for being too closed, not listening to others, not accepting feedback or criticism. He doubled down on that during the runoff, sticking with the mantra that the mayor needs to make hard decisions.
McLean ran on a platform of being more open, of listening to others, of accepting feedback and bringing in multiple viewpoints and opinions. That strategy seemed to win the day.
Issues mattered, as well. Bieter seemed to have gotten pulled up short by the resistance to the library and the stadium.
But McLean seemed to get pulled up short by the homelessness issue, as Bieter hammered away, seeking to win over perhaps more conservative voters and the business and development crowd.
If you’re going to be the band leader, make sure you know where the band is going.
Now that she’s won, McLean would do well to keep her ear to the ground and make sure she is indeed listening to her constituents when it comes to issues such as homelessness and property taxes.
She’ll also need to learn that as mayor, she will be expected to address multiple issues that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As Bieter pointed out in the campaign, you can work on a downtown stadium and address homelessness at the same time.
The election brought out a lot of issues that McLean will have to address as mayor.
Dave Bieter can take great solace in the fact that he has served as Boise mayor longer than anyone else in history, 16 years, and he has served with distinction. We thank Mayor Bieter for his service to the city, and we wish McLean well in her new role.