Challenger backed by Avimor wins a divided Eagle mayoral election

Challenger Jason Pierce defeated incumbent Stan Ridgeway in a close race for Eagle mayor on Tuesday night, closing the books on an election that left the city of 31,000 divided over growth.

With a 42.1% voter turnout, higher than usual for an off-year municipal election, Pierce received 3,919 votes, or 52.8%, to incumbent Stan Ridgeway’s 2,670 (35.9%) and challenger Christopher Hadden’s 838 (11.3%).

“I don’t hold grudges,” Pierce told the Statesman in an phone interview late Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to making sure Eagle is — as far as I’m concerned — the best city in the Treasure Valley.”

Pierce was supported by the developers of Avimor planned community going up in the Eagle Foothills. They wanted Ridgeway replaced. Avimor seeks to be annexed into Eagle as it develops, but Ridgeway and the current council said that would cost Eagle taxpayers too much.

Pierce’s victory wasn’t just his own: Two council members lost their seats to Pierce supporters. Brad Pike and Charlie Baun ousted incumbents Jill Mitchell and Stan Bastian. Pierce told the Statesman the trio would “work great together.”

Opposition to downtown apartments that Ridgeway and the City Council backed also contributed to voters’ oust-the-incumbents mood.

Former Mayor Nancy Merrill, who supported the winners, said the results weren’t a surprise. “The extreme number of apartments that have been built and approved in the last five years was a really big concern,” she said in a phone interview with the Statesman.

Pierce offered a new direction.

“I think the city saw we needed a powerful force to turn the ship around, and I think they got that with the three of us,” Pierce said.

Ridgeway, 71, was elected in 2015 on the promise to clean up the city’s finances and increase transparency in the mayor’s office. He served on Eagle’s City Council from 2014 to 2015, and before that lived in Juneau, Alaska, where he served on the Juneau Board of Education and the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly.

Current Eagle Mayor Stan Ridgeway, running for re-election, waves to early morning commuters at Eagle Road and State Street. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Pierce, 47, raised more money than Ridgeway and said he would seek a new direction for the city. Pierce argued that the city should respond more to neighbors’ concerns about growth and keep the city’s rural feel by growing out rather than up.

Meanwhile, Hadden, a 47-year-old stay-at-home dad who has self-funded his campaign, fell somewhere in between.

The biggest question in this election was: As the city grows within an increasingly urban valley, can Eagle preserve its rural feel?

Behind that question was an even more complicated one: Can the city afford to do that?

That’s at issue because of Avimor, the controversial planned community that sits on Eagle’s edge. Right now it’s just 800 acres, but could expand to 23,000 acres, bringing thousands of homes to Eagle’s Foothills.

Avimor’s future was at stake in this election, as it wants Eagle to annex so it can grow in Ada County. Its managing partners flooded the election with over $20,000 to replace Ridgeway and the current council with candidates who favor annexation.

Jason Pierce, along with his wife, Jennifer, and other supporters, waves to early morning commuters at Highway 55 and Eagle Road. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

In the Treasure Valley’s wealthiest town, Avimor is far from the only big donor in this election. The election also saw major donations from those who oppose the current council’s decision to approve Molinari Park, a development with 307 apartments and townhouses in downtown Eagle, and the Conservation Voters for Idaho, a nonprofit that seeks to preserve open space and natural resources.

Conservation Voters supported Ridgeway and City Council candidate Jill Mitchell, giving $500 to each. Its political action committee also spent $1,402 on advertising for the candidates.

Pierce could have faced a runoff election had he earned less than 50% of the vote.

City Council: Incumbents lose

Five people ran for two city council seats, with the top two vote-getters winning. The incumbents, Jill Mitchell and Stan Bastian, both lost their seats.

Pike won with 3,772 votes (28.6%), followed by Baun with 3,367 (25.5%). Mitchell was third with 2,969 (22.5%), Bastian fourth with2,367 (17.9%) and Parrie fifth with 718 (5.4%).

Mitchell, 53, a marriage and family therapist, moved to Eagle in 2003. She also holds a degree in library sciences and served on the Eagle Public Library Board for three years.

Bastian, 78, served on the Eagle City Council from 1991 to 2007, and was elected again in 2015. He has served in the Idaho House of Representatives and the Idaho Senate.

Mark Rodriguez dances away during the morning commute at Eagle Road and State Street. “Dancing like nobody’s watching,” he quipped, since he was the only one who couldn’t see. “Get out and vote. It’s an American thing.” Bob George, left, also dons a likeness of Eagle City Council candidate Brad Pike, a personal friend. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Charlie Baun, 44, works as the Conservation Branch manager for the Idaho Army National Guard. He also works as an environmental consultant, and has previously worked for Avimor and the city of Eagle. He serves on the Ada County Planning and Zoning commission and the city’s pathways and recreation committee.

Pike, who retired from the Santa Clara County Fire Department in 2012, serves as a fire commissioner for the Eagle Fire District. He also served as mayor of Hollister, California.

Dave Parrie, 63, owned an auto body shop. He does not have any past political experience.

Now, the mayor-elect and new council members will be forced to reckon with a city that has been divided by the election, Merrill said.

““For me — and all three — the big concern was how do we reach out and bring people back together again as a community?” she asked.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised. A previous version described Conservation Voters of Idaho as liberal. The group says it endorses, and works with, both Democrats and Republicans.

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.