BOISE — A group of local developers has jumped into the runoff campaign with a mailer focused on homeless encampments.
A mailer telling voters City Council President Lauren McLean supports tent cities in Boise with “no oversight and no solution” is circulating in the community with roughly a week to go before votes are totaled a second time to see who will become Boise’s next mayor.
Incumbent Mayor Dave Bieter and McLean will go head-to-head in a runoff on Dec. 3 after no candidate earned over 50% of the vote in the Nov. 5 general election.
The mailer, titled “Lauren McLean’s Future Boise,” shows old photos of a 2015 homeless encampment called Cooper Court that was near Interfaith Sanctuary. The mailer quotes Bieter saying McLean supports camps on public properties, and it celebrates Bieter’s work to stop homeless encampments by ticketing people for camping in public spaces when homeless shelters have room.
However, McLean has vehemently denied supporting homeless encampment in interviews and in public multiple times during the runoff.
The mailer was paid for by an organization called the Responsible Government Fund. The group filed a 48-hour finance report with the city of Boise on Nov. 21 showing $12,000 in contributions from two local developers, with David Wali from Gardner Company contributing $10,000 and Gary Hawkins from Hawkins Companies contributing $2,000. The group’s treasurer, Graham Paterson, described the group as interested residents who wanted to speak out against the health and public safety issue posed by homeless camps.
“It is a group of citizens who want to come together and have a voice in the election,” he said.
The debate around Boise’s ordinance allowing police to issue tickets for public camping has turned into one of the central issues of the contentious runoff. Bieter defends the ordinance, which he calls an essential tool to prevent encampments from growing and posing a danger to those who live in them. Currently police issue only a handful of these tickets each year.
Bieter’s administration has been fighting a court battle over the ordinance since 2009 and recently decided to appeal the case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed ticketing for public camping a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The nation’s highest court has not decided whether it will hear the case.
McLean opposes ticketing and said she would prefer to address homelessness by better connecting residents to services and other “upstream solutions” to prevent camps in the first place.
In response to the mailer, McLean’s campaign manager, Melanie Folwell, said she is not surprised a group of developers would want to put out such a message.
“This time (Bieter’s) gotten downtown developers to do his dirty work,” Folwell said in a text message. “The good old boy’s club is worried (and) they’re scapegoating the most vulnerable people in our community and they’re throwing everything at the wall. WE trust the people of Boise will know better than to fall for scare tactics.”
Wali could not be reached for comment. In response to an email asking why he supported the mailers and if he felt they were misleading because of McLean’s comments about not supporting camps, Hawkins did not provide an answer.
“I have no idea what you are accusing me of and why,” he wrote.
Bieter’s campaign manager, Robert West, said his group was not aware the mailer was going out and is not legally allowed to coordinate with outside groups to campaign in this manner. He also said the language on the mailer is not how Bieter talks about the issue, but they agree with the general message.
“For us it’s about this ordinance, which Lauren is in favor of not using and not having in place,” West said. “Camps would become an issue. … We believe the ordinance is what is needed to keep that status quo to make sure that camps don’t become serious health and public safety concerns, mostly for the folks that would live in them.”