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Madam Mayor: Lauren McLean first woman elected mayor of Boise

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Boise Mayoral Election

NEWS ANALYSIS

Next month, the largest city in the State of Idaho will have an elected woman in the mayor’s office for the first time.

Lauren McLean will be the 47th person to carry the title Boise Mayor.  And only the second woman. Carolyn Terteling-Payne served for 11 months in the wake of the resignation of Brent Coles, but she was chosen by a vote of the council.

McLean won not one, but two elections to take the seat from 16-year incumbent mayor Dave Bieter, who she beat in November’s general election, and yesterday’s runoff.

She grew up in Houston, Texas after starting life in Boston, Massachusetts.  But of Boise, she said she fell in love on her first visit when she saw the “golden glow” of the Boise Foothills.

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And those very hills put her in the public spotlight for the first time. At Coles’ behest, a young McLean led the campaign to convince voters to approve a property tax levy to protect foothills land.

Mayor Lauren McLean
Mayor-elect Lauren McLean in the Boise Foothills. Courtesy McLean campaign

“There were so many challenges, but the great thing about this campaign was that nobody involved in the campaign really believed there were challenges that we couldn’t overcome,” McLean told Idaho Public TV of that campaign.

It was the first time McLean would help convince Boiseans to approve something – but not the last.

When Bieter first appointed her to city council, she told the Boise Weekly her biggest fear was “having my name printed in the paper.” Now, McLean’s name is in the headlines all the time (even in the New York Times this week). And as mayor, it will only intensify.

As her focus moves from the campaign to governing, McLean will face headwinds.

On the incoming city council, three members who endorsed Bieter shared sharp public criticism during the campaign. Holli Woodings commented on McLean’s campaign Facebook page rebuking her for changing a stance on an issue. Last month, TJ Thomson sent off several tweets critical of McLean’s stance on debates. He later sparked a mini-media storm with even harsher tweets. Council pro tem Elaine Clegg came out in favor of Bieter over McLean’s handling of the homeless camping issue.

McLean said she doesn’t take it personally and looks forward to continuing the positive relationship she has with each of the council members.

“I would say it’s good to have a council that works well together,” she said last month in an interview with BoiseDev. “And I’ve always worked great with my fellow council members. I recognize it’s campaign time – but we start back where we were when this election is over.”

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Bieter may also remain a factor in local politics. He serves as the secretary and treasurer of the Capital City Development Corporation. He also appointed every member of the urban renewal agency’s board.  The commissioners serve fixed terms, and Bieter’s isn’t up until 2022 – the last of the seven seats to expire.  Under Idaho law, McLean could add two additional members to the commission, or make other changes outlined in code.

“Appointments in any commission are like that,” McLean said during the campaign. “Planning and zoning, parks commission – anything like that. People who serve in those roles are volunteers and I value their service and recognize that they are there appointed by a prior mayor but will finish out their terms if they so choose.”

The factors of growth that roiled the race and dominated the conversation won’t go away with a new mayor.  Housing affordability, traffic, the use of urban renewal, density and more will remain on the agenda.

Outgoing mayor Bieter deemed homelessness to be the central issue in the runoff. His campaign and allies painted a dire picture of Boise overrun with homeless people if McLean won. Now, with her in the corner office, she will have to ensure the picture painted by Bieter’s allies doesn’t come true.

The new mayor and new-look city council will also need to determine how to move forward on a long-sought-after new main public library.  Bieter said he wanted to contest the legality of a “vote for a vote” petition that voters approved in November.  The language of that law constrains how the city can spend money in the future on big capital projects.

During the mayoral race, McLean told voters at a forum that when she needs to escape, she heads to the foothills she helped protect.

“I was running with my dog in the Foothills and the sun was setting and everything was golden and I felt like I was flying,” she told IPTV. “For me, the Foothills are in my soul.”

Now from the golden light of the foothills to that public spotlight, McLean has four years to make her next mark.

Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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