It's not exactly the flashy, nasty, controversy-filled campaigns that have become the norm across the nation.
Instead, Mayor Dave Bieter and Boise City Councilman Jim Tibbs seem to have a lot in common. Both candidates have experience in public government—Bieter as mayor and a two-term representative in the State Legislature; and Tibbs as a former police officer, state drug czar and two-year city councilman. Both have strong ties to the community. Both are known in the community. Both have recruited some big names to aid their campaigns.
And both are eager to set themselves apart from the other.
Bieter has faced criticism for being too confrontational with other governmental agencies and lacking political polish. Tibbs has taken his own knocks for a lack of experience in elected positions and his failure to stand out from the pack.
Bieter has already stated publicly that Tibbs has failed to show himself as an alternative to the current city government, going along with the rest of the council on the vast majority of issues. He also faults his opponent for not offering a clear vision for Boise.
"Unless I missed something, he hasn't said anything," Bieter said. "If there is a vision articulated, I haven't heard it."
Tibbs acknowleges he has rarely stood against the council and said he doesn't necessarily disagree with the city's current directions. Instead, he simply feels the need for some sort of change.
"I thought I had something better to offer," he said when asked why he wanted to be mayor. "I had a lot of people contact me, encouraging me to run for mayor."
That something is a different leadership style. "I don't have all the answers, but I can bring people to the table that do."
His campaign seems to continue the niceness theme, focusing on improving relationships with other government agencies and neighboring communities. "We're the capital city, does that make us more important?" he said. "What makes Boise so great is its surrounding communities."
Tibbs also stresses the importance of cooperation in dealing with issues affecting the entire valley, including transportation and pollution.
Bieter, though, says that cooperation already exists. He points to the Blueprint for Good Growth, which he has vocally championed. The nonbinding agreement between Boise, the cities of Eagle, Meridian and Garden City, the Ada County Highway District and Ada County, sets guidelines for dealing with growth across the area.
He also cites the work of the Treasure Valley Partnership, a board made up of mayors and council members from Treasure Valley communities. Among several projects, the partnership provides funding for a special U.S. attorney to target gang crime in the area.
Bieter acknowledges that the city's relationships with Ada County and ACHD have been strained, but he sees hope for the future—at least when it comes to the county.
Bieter's relationship with ACHD is infamous. He has repeatedly said he would like to see the agency dissolved, allowing the city to take responsibility for its roads. The battle became particularly nasty when ACHD moved forward on a plan to widen Ustick Road, an action the city fought aggressively.
"It is not radical at all to have control of your streets and a street department," Bieter said. "It's the old cliche, if you have a problem with a pothole, call the mayor. And that's what everybody still does. What's radical is this experiment of a single-function, countywide governmental entity."
Rather than taking an apologetic tone when it comes to his past battles, Bieter said he sees it as part of his job description. "If I don't believe our citizens are getting their fair shares, I believe it's my job [to fight].
"I am the mayor—and I hope to continue to be the mayor—of Boise," he said, putting emphasis on the city.
Tibbs said dissolving ACHD would be a step backward. "It does have its issues," he said. "But the relationship is not as good as it should be and can be."
The city also has a troubled relationship with the Boise Police union. Negotiations to settle on the details of a new contract have repeatedly collapsed, and there is still no end in sight.
"Certainly, we're disappointed we don't have an agreement, and we have said we have made an offer to keep them the best-paid peace officers in the state of Idaho, not just in the valley; that hasn't been good enough," Bieter said. "We have to look at the whole of the city—both the general employees and the other union of firefighters—and we need to be fair across the board, and we believe we have been."
Tibbs said he feels the offer made to the police union was fair, but added the city has money available to offer higher salaries for police officers. He credits an increasingly competitive market for qualified law enforcement officers as the reason the city should offer more money and better benefits.
"The council has made some positive steps," he said. "Now we have the opportunity to put some money where our mouth is."
Tibbs acknowledged that all city employees should be treated fairly but said fair does not mean equal.
Four years ago, Bieter ran for office with a promise to clean up city hall after the Brent Coles scandal left the city with a black eye and voters with a healthy dose of political skepticism.
This time around he is focusing his campaign on the idea of livability, which involves everything that draws people to the city. From creating an ethics panel and strengthening ties with the city's neighborhood associations, to building libraries and parks, Bieter said increasing livability means increasing Boiseans' quality of life.
But not everyone is a fan of his favorite phrase.
"I've heard 'the livable city' so much it's starting to get a little bit fuzzy," Tibbs said. "What does that mean?"
One thing both candidates agree on is that controlling growth is key to the future of the city. Bieter favors channeling growth toward the south and southeast sides of the city and is against development in the Foothills. "It's almost a perfect storm for new development," Bieter said. "Everything that we've learned over the last 20 years of planning should be applied in that area."
Tibbs also believes there is room for growth to the south but said he feels there is room for development in the Foothills as well. "It's about balance," he said.
Bieter and Tibbs are just beginning their long slog to Election Day in November. Along the way, there are sure to be new issues to tackle and possibly new candidates to challenge. But both candidates will continue to try to distinguish themselves in what could be the battle of the nice guys.