2020 wasn’t the first year in office for Mayor Lauren McLean anyone expected.
It began with a swearing-in ceremony heralded by Scottish pipes and drums in packed City Council Chambers just after the new year. But as the global pandemic swept into Idaho, things rapidly changed. For most of the year, Boise’s new mayor contended with COVID-19 cases and the ensuing overnight economic recession in a city hall closed to the public and conducting most meetings remotely.
Despite the unexpected impact of the pandemic, McLean said she looks back with pride on the progress the city made toward her goals of building affordable housing, more aggressively working to act on climate change, and planning for more public transit.
“I’ve often said to our team that we’re on two parallel tracks,” she said in an interview. “We have to keep our eye on the long-term goal and that is to be a city for everyone where we have homes priced for Boise budgets where people can jump on transit and get to work and there are good jobs for our kids and grandkids, while at the same time addressing the crisis of the day.”
McLean said her hopes for 2021 will continue the work she started in 2020. She hopes to launch more affordable housing development projects, plan for an expanded public transit system and add new programs to address climate change.
She said the city will continue to pursue the purchase of a handful of properties in Boise to develop housing in public-private partnerships through an affordable housing land trust. McLean also hopes to build a comprehensive list of all the property the city owns to identify places the city could build housing, or continue selling properties to fund housing development elsewhere.
To address climate change, she hopes to have news by the end of 2021 on a new climate-focused business incubator. The concept would support businesses specifically working on renewable energy and other sustainability issues. She also hopes to try and work with the federal government and its new Democratic administration to find funding for Bus Rapid Transit on State Street.
McLean also focused on supporting local businesses directly. She said it would remain a priority if any new stimulus funds came available to cities with fewer than 500,000 people. In 2020, Boise received $1.5 million from Idaho’s CARES Act funds to use in a small business grant program, but those funds came via the State of Idaho.
McLean quickly became divisive
Not everyone supported of McLean in the first quarter of her term.
In April, she caught criticism from conservatives and the Idaho Freedom Foundation for the contents of a transition report put together by community members called “A More Equitable City for Everyone.” The report, put together by members of the community selected by McLean, included dozens of suggestions for things the city should implement to increase equity, including free wifi citywide, free abortion, and ending cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
McLean did not endorse the policies, and the City of Boise does not have the authority to implement many of them. The report quickly circulated online, and critics dubbed it her “socialist manifesto.” She took heavy criticism, both from some Boise residents and those outside the city, which included a failed campaign to recall her.
McLean’s action on COVID-19 restrictions, and their enforcement, has also been unpopular with some people and she has been the target of several protests outside her home by various far-right activists.
To move ahead, she said it’s important to listen to everyone, regardless of if they agree with her or not. She has continued holding virtual listening sessions through the pandemic where she takes questions and responds to concerns from Boiseans, even though she may not enact everything suggested.
“In my mind, it’s important we listen to everyone and then it’s on me and on our administration to make decisions we believe are right that reflect the values and needs of Boise today as well as creating the right foundation for Boise of the future,” she said.