BOISE — In the final minutes of Boise State University’s mayoral candidate forum, the audience saw political fireworks.
Incumbent Mayor Dave Bieter took the stage for his closing statement to close out the event and took a swipe at three of his major opponents. He said City Council President Lauren McLean had “very little to show” for her nearly a decade tenure on Boise City Council, called Ada County Highway Commission President Rebecca Arnold “one of the most contentious public servants” he knows and attacked former Mayor Brent Coles’ financial scandal that preceded him stepping down.
“What separates me from this pack is making tough decisions for the long-term best interests for the city,” he said. “There will be a time when I will step aside from this job, but this is not that time.”
Bieter turned to sit down and Coles jumped up immediately to respond to the attack, earning a roar of applause from the crowd. In addition for atoning for what he did to have to leave office, he also talked about his record of preserving the foothills and hiring police officers to keep up with the growth.
“I apologize for what happened,” he said. “There’s no question about it. I was wrong, it happened, but 16 years ago. I promise it will never happen again, but I also made other promises during the 10 years I was mayor.”
Arnold and McLean quickly followed suit. Following Coles, Arnold defended her reputation as the head of ACHD and said she has many fans in the community because she regularly stands up to Bieter and his vision for the city, which has grown increasingly contentious in the last two years.
“What Mayor Bieter calls contentious, a lot of people call courageous,” she said, staring him down from the other end of the stage. “...People tell me, ‘You are one of the few people we know who is not afraid of Mayor Bieter, and you’re not afraid that he will come after you and stand up for what you believe in and disagree with him.’”
Last, McLean said she was proud of her work on city council and did not want to wade into political bickering.
“What sets me apart is this: I’m not focused on the politics of the past,” she said. “This goes on in so many places and prevents us from moving forward, but I’m focused on the future.”
Compared to this fiery exchange, the rest of the forum was focused on less contentious topics like how to address issues directly facing BSU students and how to better connect the university to the city as a whole.
A question about how to help students facing food insecurity and homelessness sparked a difference of opinion between candidates. Candidate Adriel Martinez and Arnold suggested seeking help from the Idaho legislature.
“This issue will have to be working with BSU, and the state of Idaho and private donors to have a housing trust or subsidized living for the students so we could pump money into their housing situation,” Martinez said. “We have to let them know that we care about them.”
On the other hand, Bieter used it as an opportunity to criticize the Legislature for not providing enough funds to keep tuition affordable.
“The rise in your costs are three-quarters due to the state of Idaho not keeping up their part of the bargain,” Bieter said. “We need to be honest about that, and we need the local legislators and those from the other areas to band together and address that.”