Boise & Garden City

Bieter criticizes mayoral opponents at forum; candidates discuss BSU diversity debate

Boise Mayor David Bieter criticized three of his mayoral opponents by name at a Boise State University forum — one that, until the event’s final few moments, had been most notable for being focused mostly on student concerns

Bieter named former mayor Brent Coles, Ada County Highway District Commission President Rebecca Arnold and City Council President Lauren McLean in his closing statements when saying why he was different from the others on the stage.

“I spent years making up for Brent Coles’ scandal and the shame that he brought on the city and on our city employees that were part of that,” Bieter said Monday night. “Rebecca, bless your heart, but you’re one of the most contentious public servants that I’ve ever been around. And it shows up.”

As audience members started whispering loudly, Arnold started talking about how that wasn’t true. She stood on the other side of the stage, because she said the chairs on stage hurt her back.

Bieter then starting talking about McLean, who has been on the City Council since Bieter appointed her in 2011. McLean, who is less than $10,000 behind Bieter in cash donations according to the latest campaign-finance report, has based her campaign in large part on building new relationships as a city and on offering Boiseans a fresh alternative to Bieter, who was first elected mayor in 2003.

“Lauren, 10 years on City Council ... 10 years with very little to show for that,” Bieter said.

He went on to say that what separated him from his challengers is that he makes “tough decisions for the long-term vested interests of the city.”

Because Bieter was the final candidate to give his closing statements, it appeared for a moment that the candidates he criticized would not get to respond. Coles said that he would like to. That was met with applause. He, Arnold and McLean were allowed to speak.

Coles said he had apologized for what happened when he left office, saying that the scandal where he misused public money “happened 16 years ago” and promising it would never happen again.

Arnold said that what Bieter called contentious, “many call courageous.” Many people had commended her, she said, for standing up to the mayor in the past.

McLean, who pointed out she has been on the council for only eight years, responded by saying what set her apart is that she is “not focused on politics of the past,” which she said “goes on in so many places and prevents us from moving forward.”

Leading up to final statements, candidates had primarily promised to represent not just full-time residents of the city but also Boise State University’s more than 25,000 students.

Speaking to an audience of students, community members and university officials, including BSU President Marlene Tromp, the seven candidates answered questions on things important to students, such as job opportunities in the city, as well as things that matter to all people living in Boise — safety, affordability and transportation.

Candidates were asked to weigh in on the university’s recent controversy surrounding its diversity and inclusion efforts after 28 state legislators signed a letter saying those efforts went against the “Idaho way.” The candidates were asked specifically what “inclusive excellence” meant to them.

Bieter called the letter “really embarrassing” and pointed to Boise’s efforts to be a welcoming city. McLean said it is important for the city government to reflect the city’s population in staffing and priorities.

Arnold spoke about the value of making sure all people participate. Adriel Martinez said he would stick up for students even if that meant getting in trouble with state legislators. Cortney Nielsen spoke about seeing diverse people at the Boise Music Festival.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.