Boise mayoral runoff forum

City Council President Lauren McLean (left) and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter (far right) faced off in a forum Tuesday for the Dec. 3 mayoral runoff. Bill Manny with Idaho Public Television (center) moderated the forum, put on by City Club of Boise.

BOISE — The gloves are off in Boise’s mayoral runoff election campaigns.

Just a few days before absentee voting was set to begin, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and City Council President Lauren McLean took the stage Tuesday for a City Club of Boise forum at The Grove Hotel.

The candidates dueled over homelessness, major capital projects and their records while holding two of the loftiest positions in city government.

Until Tuesday, they had largely talked around each other at forums in a crowded field of seven mayoral hopefuls. But now, with only the two candidates on stage, they both took a more aggressive turn than they had in the run-up to last week’s general election.

In his opening statement, Bieter brought up the ongoing debate over whether Boise should have legal authority to ticket people for sleeping on the streets. Bieter supports the city being able to issue tickets to those sleeping on the street and has led the charge on the city seeking this authority from the U.S. Supreme Court.

McLean has said she thinks the city should use social services and prevention to help those experiencing homelessness instead of turning to ticketing.

This has been a major split between them and a talking point for Bieter since the Nov. 5 election. Several times, he’s referenced his controversial decision in December 2015 to oust a homeless encampment known as Cooper Court due to health and safety concerns.

“(Camps are) the opposite of compassion,” he said. “I had to make a tough decision to disband Cooper Court, one of the toughest decisions I have made, but I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me for that decision and have told me that the future of Boise depends on keeping our streets safe and clean and not allowing those (camps). That is the most important issue in this campaign.”

When the question came up more directly, McLean fought back against a claim Bieter made to CBS 2 last week that she supports allowing camps on public property in Boise.

“I do not support encampments,” she said. “Nobody supports encampments. Absolutely nobody. To say otherwise is disingenuous and is breeding fear on the backs of those who are most marginalized in this community. I know we can do better.”

STADIUM

Another flashpoint during the forum centered around the proposal for a public-private partnership for a sports park in Boise — a discussion which quickly escalated into Bieter crying foul over a remark from McLean that he felt was a personal attack.

Bieter has long been a proponent of partnering with an outside developer to bring a multiuse stadium to Boise, which garnered pushback from opponents because of how it would be financed and questions over whether a stadium should be one of the city’s spending priorities. Early on, McLean said she supported the concept but could not make a judgment on it until an official proposal came forward and public hearings were held.

Tuesday, she said she heard enough opposition while campaigning that she no longer supports the idea of spending public funds on a stadium and thinks the city should focus as much energy as possible on affordable housing and public transportation.

“We’ve heard about this stadium for 16 years,” she said at the forum. “Often, the mayor paints the picture of Seattle, San Francisco and Portland. Those mayors built stadiums before they addressed affordability to prevent what we now see in those communities with regard to camps (for those experiencing homelessness).”

She later referred to the sports park as a “legacy project,” which Bieter strongly objected to.

“My legacy project is my daughter,” he said. “That is the only legacy that matters to me. … I don’t give a damn about it in that setting. I care about her.”

McLean countered that she was not attempting to make a comparison between a large capital project and Bieter’s daughter, but Bieter insisted McLean’s comment was meant as a personal slight.

“(Legacy) is one of the most charged terms, and she meant it in that way,” he said.

While McLean’s campaign has been focused on bringing new energy and direction to the mayor’s office, Bieter has stood by his 16 years of experience as a reason why voters should elect him for a fifth term.

“Do you tell your accountant, ‘You’re just too experienced for me, I want somebody who hasn’t done anything?’” he said. “Do you tell your nurse, ‘You’ve been a nurse for 16 years. I don’t want you to work for me. I want somebody who has never worked on anybody before?’”

On the other hand, McLean said if she were elected, she would have a self-imposed limit of three terms.

“We have to have a sense of urgency daily to tackle the challenges of the city,” she said. “We have to know that our time is limited, so we won’t destroy relationships, but will build and maintain them so we can accomplish the things we must.”

Late Tuesday, McLean said she would bow out of participating in any more debates with Bieter, and focus on campaigning instead.

{span}”I believe that debates are largely of interest to people with the spare time to tune in and inclination to seek out ‘fireworks,’” she said in a press release. “The people of Boise begin absentee voting this weekend, and early voting starts on Monday. Time is short.”{/span}

Bieter’s campaign tweeted in responded to her release, saying, “We know how Council Member McLean reacts when faced with tough decisions. So much for listening when she has to answer to her own record.”

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