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The race for Boise mayor: On the eve of election day, here’s the story of the race

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Boise Mayoral Election

In January of this year, BoiseDev wrote about how this year’s election could be unusually interesting. And how.

If you haven’t followed every twist and turn – but want a synopsis of what happened, this is the story to read. Based upon reporting here on BoiseDev, as well as the work of Hayley Harding at the Idaho Statesman and Margaret Carmel at the Idaho Press, here’s the story of the race for Boise mayor.

First, a note of housekeeping. If on Tuesday, no single candidate gets fifty percent of the vote plus one – a runoff election will be held with the top two on December 3rd.

“I’m in.”

David H. Bieter, Boise Mayor
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter

Five-hundred-thirty-two days before the polls opened, incumbent mayor Dave Bieter told former Idaho Statesman reporter Sven Berg that he would run for a fifth term.

“I’m in. For sure,” Berg quoted him as saying.

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Fast in the Morning Wild 101

During 2018, Bieter worked to raise funds for the upcoming race, and before the election year started, he raked in nearly $60,000.

Well into 2018, Bieter was the only candidate who expressed interest in the seat. But that, of course, would change.

The Faucher letter

Before the race started in earnest, Bieter wrote a letter in support of convicted pedophile Thomas Faucher. Faucher already pleaded guilty to possessing hours of child pornography, and several people wrote letters on the former Catholic priest’s behalf – including Bieter.

A portion of the mayor’s letter was read in open court.

“I don’t know how I would’ve made it through without Tom Faucher,” Bieter wrote according to the Idaho Statesman.

The Statesman said police struggled with the investigation of Thomas Faucher. The images found “were sexually exploitative or pornographic with young-looking subjects. The files were described by police as violent, disturbing and torturous, some involving children crying,” according to reporting at the time from the Statesman.

The next day, the mayor’s spokesperson released a statement on Bieter’s behalf.

“Forgiveness and mercy are central tenets of my faith. I condemn Thomas Faucher’s crimes in the strongest possible terms and remain deeply disturbed and angry that a man I’ve known for decades was capable of such things. He was a family friend and priest for more than 40 years. His support and counsel when my parents were killed was irreplaceable in helping us get through that very difficult time. That history and my faith compel me to have compassion for an old sick man and prompted me to encourage what leniency the court saw fit to offer.”

A close competitor

Boise City Council President Lauren McLean

As the spring rolled on, Bieter started to draw competitors. Adriel Martinez jumped in.

Then, a surprise. Boise City Council President Lauren McLean said she would run against Bieter. The announcement turned political heads – as Bieter appointed McLean to her seat on the council, and the two sit next to each other each week at council meetings.

The face-off quickly started with a back and forth.

In a story on the announcement, The Idaho Press’ Margaret Carmel reported McLean tried to tell Bieter about the candidacy in person, but scheduling conflicts forced her to tell him over the phone. A Bieter staffer told Carmel that McLean never requested the meeting – and that the two never spoke directly. McLean later told me this wasn’t true, and expressed surprise at the early tangle – on the very first day of her campaign.

A quiet summer ahead of a noisy fall

As spring turned to summer, McLean and Bieter worked to build their campaigns. They knocked doors. Each raised money. They kept showing up to council meetings – together.

McLean’s campaign announced it would not take contributions from corporations or PACs. Bieter led “Boise Kind Day.”

The Idaho Press ran a story that cited an anonymous source raising a question of what the source said were McLean’s ties to ‘dark money.’

The story revealed a pair of emails McLean wrote that were later forwarded to Hilary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Those emails and thousands of others were hacked by the Russian government and provided to Wikileaks, which released them in an attempt to derail the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

McLean pushed back and said “These people are members of the investor network, but because this information relates to their financial decisions, they ask for privacy. Just like a law firm wouldn’t list clients, a small business rarely shares their client list, etc.”

[Mr. Potato Head once ran for mayor of Boise. He just couldn’t get a head]

The library factor

Boise Library project
Courtesy City of Boise

In August, Bieter took two key actions on the proposed project to revamp the Boise Library.

First, citing escalating construction costs, Bieter said he would put a “pause” on the development of the project. The money budgeted for the $85-million plus project would remain earmarked in the city’s budget for now.

Also in August, Bieter told a group of Library stakeholders that if the ballot initiative passes, the city would “take it before a judge,” saying he was confident the ballot initiative would be found unconstitutional.

In the spring, Bieter spearheaded a political action committee that ran Facebook ads discouraging voters from signing a petition to put the library project on the ballot. His campaign initially denied it, but the Idaho Press later got Bieter on the record saying he did, in fact, put it together.

[Fact check: Yes, Boise just paid the library architects. No, it didn’t violate its “pause” pledge]

An old city hall scandal re-enters the news

H. Brent Coles

In September, on the last day of the filing period for Boise mayor, members of the media got a surprise email.

Brent Coles would hold a news conference. He would again seek his old seat.

Coles, Boise mayor from 1993 until 2003, resigned amidst a scandal that engulfed his office.

An Ada County Grand Jury indicted Coles on five felony counts related to a trip paid for by an insurance company to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT.

The former mayor also admitted submitting falsified reimbursement records to the city for tickets to a Broadway show in New York City.

Coles spent five weeks in jail and three years probation, as well as paying fines. He later saw his record wiped clean and the felony counts dismissed.

Coles used the platform his notoriety brings to hit on a series of themes: lowering property taxes. Adding police officers. Reconsidering the library. He also continually dinged Bieter’s decisions – and said the mayor is now in a bubble – much like the one he said he was in when scandal brought down his mayorship.

Coles said he learned his lesson, but many voters on public forum remain skeptical.

Arnold rounds out the field

Rebecca Arnold

Just a few hours before the filing deadline, and right after Brent Coles, Rebecca Arnold entered the race. The current president of the Ada County Highway District told BoiseDev that she entered because she didn’t see a good choice in the field.

Arnold also has been dogged by controversy. Kate Talerico at the Idaho Statesman reported Arnold helped facilitate meetings between campaign donor and neighbor Winston Moore over a bridge in west Boise. The bridge served a private road that led to just a few properties – some owned by Moore, and one owned by Arnold. Ultimately the commission decided not to build the bridge.

‘Flip flop,’ or ‘listening’

Throughout the year, McLean’s campaign has taken a series of stances on key Boise issues that sometimes sit at odds with her prior positions on the Boise City Council.

McLean told BoiseDev the pause on the library project should have “happened months ago.” The Bieter campaign quickly responded with a news release saying “Where has Council President McLean been?,” and noting McLean never asked for a pause. “In fact, she was on the selection panel for the project’s architect and called for a large scale design while supporting every decision to move the project forward that has come before the Council since,” the Bieter campaign wrote.

McLean responded back: “Where have I been? I’ve been out talking with hundreds of Boiseans about their concerns, engaging them in conversations about our future, and standing up for our democracy by protecting the rights and reputations of signature gatherers who are residents in our city,” she said. “Rather than fund a PAC to prevent the ballot initiative, I supported the rights and reputations of signature gatherers.”

The flip flop flap flared again in October. McLean told Margaret Carmel at the Idaho Press that she opposes a lawsuit the City of Boise has taken to the US Supreme Court over a law that would allow police officers to ticket homeless residents for ‘camping’ on public property.

In a similar pattern, the Bieter campaign said McLean “flip-flops again” and said she previously supported the decision. McLean said she was given misleading information by the mayor’s staff.

[Boise Fire Chief Officers’ PAC violated city policy by doing business at City Hall West]

The race boils over

L-R: Wayne Richey, Dave Bieter, Lauren McLean, Brent Coles, Cortney Nielsen, Adriel Martinez and Rebecca Arnold appear on stage before a forum at Boise State University. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

While Coles, Arnold, McLean and even Martinez and anti-growth candidate Wayne Richey have repeatedly mentioned the current administration, rarely did they cite Dave Bieter by name.

During an otherwise uneventful forum at Boise State University earlier this month, Bieter decided to battle back.

The mayor got the final closing statement, which should have been the last word on the platform.

He went hard at Arnold, Coles and McLean:

“We have to separate from each other. I need to talk about my opponents. I spent years making up for Brent Coles’ scandal and the shame it brought upon our city and our city employees that weren’t a part of that. And Rebecca, bless your heart, but you are one of the most contentious public servants I’ve been around. And it shows up. Lauren, ten years on city council is not new. Ten years with very little to show for that. That isn’t new. What separates me from this pack is making tough decisions…”

Bieter then said he intended to keep the job as mayor.

“There will be a time when I will step aside from this job. This is not that time.”

Competitors respond

The moderators moved to close the forum. But Coles wasn’t having it.

“I need to respond to that,” he said. Moderators said they would give him fifteen seconds. “I definitely apologize for what happened. There’s no question about it. It was wrong that it happened sixteen years ago.” He then touted some of his accomplishments.

Arnold went next.

“What Mayor Bieter calls contentious, a lot of folks call courageous. Having the courage to stand up to someone… several people have said to me ‘we’re glad you’re in public office, because you are one of the few people who are not afraid of Mayor Bieter, and not afraid that he’s gonna come after you, that you are willing to stand up for what you believe in.”

Then, McLean.

“I’m proud of the work that I’ve accomplished. But what sets me apart is that I’m not focused on the politics of the past – and things like this that happen in so many places that prevent us from moving forward. As mayor, you can do so much more – and I’m looking forward to talking about the future and resetting relationships and walking away from the grudges.”

After the testy exchange, McLean and Bieter shared a quick handshake as the forum ended. Bieter and Arnold also spoke to each other on stage for nearly a minute.

Later, in the lobby, a supporter came up to Bieter to talk about the debate. Bieter thanked them for the warm wishes and said “I might have come in a little hot there at the end.”

Now, you choose

With months of campaigning, fundraising, TV ads and mailers reaching the end – voters get to make a choice.

You can read our extensive questionnaire with each of the candidates – and cast your vote on November 5th.

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