Boise voters on Dec. 3 again have the opportunity to elect their city’s leader.
City Council President Lauren McLean faces incumbent Mayor Dave Bieter in a runoff election, after neither one snagged a majority of votes in the general.
There’s been no shortage of coverage of their campaigns and their vision for the city. But still, voters may be torn. Both Bieter and McLean are the more left-leaning candidates of the seven who were on the initial ballot, and both have served in Boise city government for years.
After meeting with each candidate, the majority of our editorial board believes the optimism and fresh energy McLean brings to the table makes her the better choice for Boise mayor.
Our board’s cautious endorsement of McLean was not unanimous. It almost mirrored that of the city’s vote on Nov. 5 — while most board members endorsed McLean, the minority said Bieter has earned his stay.
There’s a lot about Boise’s growth under Bieter’s leadership that has been positive over the past 16 years — new parks and branch libraries, housing developments for the homeless, increased funding for public busing, growth of businesses and things to do in the downtown core.
Still, the city is facing a new set of challenges as it becomes an increasingly popular place to live. Rents and housing prices are spiking, so residents getting priced out of their neighborhoods or putting off buying a home. Traffic congestion is worsening without a realistic valleywide plan to fund alternative forms of transportation. Stagnant wages mixed with the affordable housing crisis are creating unsustainable conditions for many Boiseans just trying to get by, from the single parent who can’t keep up with rent increases to the senior citizen on a fixed income whose property taxes are rising every year.
We understand, as Bieter pointed out, that many of Boise’s challenges actually stem from its success. People are only moving here — and boosting demand for housing and traffic on the roads — because Boise is a desirable and attractive place to live.
We commend Bieter on many of the city’s successes that grew out of his vision and leadership. Still, with four terms under his belt and new challenges on the horizon, we see value in electing new leadership. Mindsets, approaches and grudges stemming from the past decade or more may not serve Boise well in this new era. If McLean stays true to her campaign promises, we believe she’ll bring in the collaborative attitude necessary to work with other jurisdictions, such as the Ada County Highway District, and leaders from across the valley. Collaboration is crucial in this time of dizzying growth, and we have heard attitudes from Bieter, notably a disdain toward ACHD, which oversees Boise’s roadways, that could undermine cooperation.
As we saw Nov. 5, Boiseans want more of a say when it comes to major library and stadium projects. The city can pursue a dynamic, accessible and modern main library — which both candidates support — without spending millions of dollars on an out-of-state, world-class architect, especially at a time when housing and transportation needs are so pressing. And a stadium might have been the economic boon that Boise’s downtown needed years ago, but now might not be the best use of public dollars.
To handle growth well, Boise’s mayor must not only be in tune with residents, but must work collaboratively with other leaders across the valley toward solutions. McLean’s optimistic approach and willingness to listen could help unite local cities, transportation agencies and counties in their efforts toward smart growth.
A distinguishing factor between the two candidates is their stance on ticketing people for sleeping in public places. As Boise waits to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will take up this case, Bieter said the authority to issue these tickets is a crucial tool for cities to prevent homeless encampments, which pose safety risks to those who live within them. McLean said ticketing a person experiencing homelessness will only drag them further into a challenging situation that’s hard to break free from.
McLean brings a sense of urgency to solve the issue of affordable housing — focusing not just on the needs of those who are homeless, but on those who are hanging onto their housing by a thread. Within her first 60 days in office, McLean said she would form a housing task force and require a report listing quick and doable steps, such as ordinance changes, for the public to review. She wants to develop clear channels of accessibility and communication so neighborhoods and business leaders can better engage.
It’s easy to spout big ideas on the campaign trail and then, once in office, leave those behind or realize they were unrealistic. We hope McLean, if given the chance, follows through with her optimism to find solutions, listen to residents and collaborate with other jurisdictions. Progress will not come from emphasizing what Boise can’t do — such as its inability to pass a local-option sales tax because of state law. Progress will come from a creative approach, with understanding that Boise’s needs are evolving. Sometimes a change in leadership provides a shift in the right direction.