Change is coming. For the first time in nearly a generation, more than a dozen candidates are vying for seats on the Boise City Council. When voters go to the polls on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, they will choose new faces to fill at least two of three seats on the council. Only one incumbent, TJ Thomson (Council Seat 4), is running, and he faces three challengers: Crispin Gravatt, Naomi Johnson and Nicolas Way.
Maryanne Jordan, the longest serving council member, is stepping down from Council Seat 6 to focus on her role as an Idaho State Senator. Jordan was appointed to the Boise City Council in 2003, at the height of the scandal that plagued former Mayor Brent Coles and resulted not only in Coles going to jail but also in wholesale change to city leadership. Jordan was reelected to the council in 2005, 2009 and 2013, and then she was appointed to the Idaho Senate in 2015 to represent Idaho Legislative District 17. Soon thereafter, Jordan announced she would retire from the council by the end of this year. The four candidates vying for Jordan's council seat are Michelle Doane, Caleb Hansen, Nicholas Jones and Holli Woodings. While the first three are newcomers, Woodings is a political veteran, with one term in the Idaho House, an unsuccessful run as a Democratic candidate for Idaho Secretary of State in 2015 and time as an Idaho delegate for Hillary Clinton at the 2016 National Democratic Convention under her belt.
Ben Quintana surprised people when he announced earlier this year that he would also be stepping down, leaving City Council Seat 2 after being elected in 2011 and reelected in 2013. Quintana is the director of organizational effectiveness at St. Luke's Health System and an instructor at Boise State University. In announcing his retirement from the city council, Quintana said he would stay on the board of commissioners for urban renewal agency, Capital City Development Corporation. Five canidates, all political newcomers, have tossed their hats into the City Council Seat 2 ring: Paul Fortin, Logan Kimball, Rachel Misnick, Lisa Sanchez and Frank Walker.
Boise Weekly reached out to all 13 candidates and asked what, if any, changes they might want to make at Boise City Hall. As expected, the candidates talked about the economy, public transportation, plans to build a downtown sports stadium and the controversial proposal to bring an F-35 mission to Gowen Field.
Though the council candidates are quite different, there are a few things they have in common: they're whip-smart, civically engaged and more than anxious to make Boise a better place.
Council Seat 2
Paul Fortin, 65, is a retired arson investigator. Fortin said he wants to "promote a positive and inclusive climate that attracts businesses and families," and wants the city to support more sustainable infrastructure, including roads, parks, trails and open spaces.
When asked what the Boise City Council should be doing that it currently isn't, Fortin said he supported a downtown stadium, "as long as no new taxes are placed on property owners." Fortin said public transportation is "running on empty, with most buses running at 50 percent, or less, ridership." As an alternative, Fortin supports a rail line running from Caldwell to Micron headquarters in Boise, or a city-managed Uber-type car service for low-income people, people with disabilities and the elderly. Fortin said he also supports more incentives for affordable housing.
Logan Kimball, 28, is a writer for a digital publishing startup. He has served as a refugee transitional mentor for World Relief and while attending Boise State University, was the mascot Buster Bronco, leading the cheers for thousands of sports fans.
Kimball said he wants to advocate for the interests of citizens "who aren't currently being represented." He said he opposes several proposals such as a downtown stadium and downtown circulator, which he calls "horrible financial projects." Kimball said spending millions on a downtown circulator "without a vote of the people is a travesty." He also believes spending millions more for a new downtown stadium "without a vote of the people is another horrible action." Kimball said the city should be doing more to "support the Boise Police Department and increase public safety for all citizens."
Rachel Misnick, 41, is an excise tax auditor. She said she's a "firm believer in carefully considering the ripple effects" of every decision made by a Boise City Council member.
Misnick said the current city council "has done a great job of encouraging economic growth and has been proactive in protecting the natural open spaces integral to the personality of Boise." However, she also said she has concerns that affordable housing, public transit and quality of life for Boise as a whole are "overdue for consideration," and "many residents don't feel their quality of life is being considered and that decisions are being made regardless of whether residents approve or not." Misnick said more attention needs to be paid to housing, traffic, air quality and accessibility for the entire city, not just the downtown area.
Lisa Sanchez, 46, is a paralegal and a bilingual case coordinator. She was the first Latina to serve as student body vice-president and president at Boise State University and has been the only Spanish-speaking civil rights investigator for the Idaho Human Rights Commission.
Sanchez said Boise has been the most welcoming city in Idaho, but "we need to connect our city, and bring everyone to the table. Improving public transportation and implanting the Transportation Action Plan outside of downtown would further this objective. The city needs to explore more options for affordable housing, and engage in dialogue to ensure that diverse communities will be able to continue to live here." Sanchez said Boise needs more "balanced economic growth" that considers livable wages, environmental impact and existing infrastructure.
Frank Walker, 58, is a Boise attorney and board member of the Boise Airport Commission. Walker said he's anxious to address affordable housing, traffic, parking and redevelopment on the Boise Bench.
Walker said Boise "has taken great steps in the past 20 years to foster a quality of life second to none." He pointed to his own experiences as a former board member of Ada County Emergency Management, COMPASS, the Treasure Valley Partnership and ValleyRide, in joining "a progressive team that truly has its residents' values in mind." Walker said he has spent time listening to residents near the Boise Airport regarding the possibility of an F-35 mission coming to Boise and "one of their major complaints is that the city has not provided specific information about its impact, how zone designations may change and what redress they have. Impacted residents must be included in the process."
Council Seat 4
Crispin Gravatt, 25, is an education research analyst currently serving as a representative in the expanded role of Boise State University in supporting community, cultural and economic development.
Gravatt said long-term prosperity for all Boise residents needs to come through strong partnerships between neighborhoods, businesses, education and government. He said the current city council is "not putting enough effort into preventing a skilled workforce gap in the near future. Many people, especially people looking to start a skilled career, have a hard time finding a sense of belonging in Boise." Gravatt said the city spends too much of its resources in training people who move to other areas for higher wages, stronger support systems and relatively affordable housing. He thinks Boise needs stronger relationships with education and other groups to make better decisions.
Naomi Johnson, 36, is a licensed clinical social worker who works with veterans. She has hosted bone marrow donation drives, worked in food pantries and engaged in voter education and political rallies.
Johnson said she wants to advocate for livability and quality of life in Boise, because "in that balance, we will bring commuters, renters and our environment to the forefront of our development decisions." Johnson said she worries that since Boise doesn't have city council representation for specific districts or neighborhoods, "there tends to be over-representation of concerns specific to distinct areas of town, while other neighborhood-specific issues may be less represented." If elected, Johnson said she will focus more on the unique concerns of each neighborhood and offer open hours to bring more community voices into council decisions.
TJ Thomson, 43, is a regulatory compliance senior technical advisor for Idaho Power and was elected to the Boise City Council in 2009 and 2013. He is seeking his third term in office and is the only incumbent in the Nov. 7 city council elections.
As councilman, Thomson helped pass the non-discrimination ordinance in Boise, spearheaded a living-wage jobs initiative, led efforts to pass the "healthy initiatives" ordinance and worked to pass a sustainable cleaning program for Boise. Thomson said the council "is on the right course" and said its focus has been on "livability, protecting open spaces, growth and development in a manner that protects community character and provid[es] the infrastructure and resources businesses need to grow the local economy." Thomson also said the city has challenges, particularly its lack of affordable housing. "It's a complicated issue, as Boise lacks many of the tools similar cities employ," he said. "I continue to seek creative solutions to incentivize new affordable housing developments."
Nicolas Way, 27, is a data quality analyst for Clearwater Analytics. Way said he's an "advocate for economic austerity and investment in quality infrastructure" to improve the quality of life for all of Boise, not just the downtown area. Way said the city council should not "collaborate with real estate developers to force rises in property values through legislation." He said instead of spending millions on what he called "pet projects in the downtown area," the city council should instead be "increasing the resources available to the fire and police departments to help them scale with the rapid growth in population." Way also said the city should continue expanding its geothermal capability and improve its wastewater treatment processes.
Council Seat 6
Michelle Doane, 50, is a manager at the Idaho Transportation Department and president of the Sunset Neighborhood Association.
Doane said she could best serve Boise by "connecting with those around us," saying she would focus on "expanding the public's involvement with local government in positive and meaningful ways to foster conversation and seek livable solutions." Doane said she believes the current city council "isn't missing anything" but thinks "there is a need to get a larger group of citizens involved in the public process." She's concerned that "not all our neighbors understand how local government works and what they can do to interact and create solutions that are effective and positive for all involved."
Caleb Hansen, 35, is a business owner and a self-described citizen lobbyist and grassroots organizer. He served a key role in organizing the 2016 Democratic presidential caucus in Boise—the largest caucus in American history—and he is considered a leader in the Add the Words Idaho movement, lobbying legislators to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Hansen said, "Boise is getting expensive, and we can't have livability without affordability." He said it's "time to get serious" about creating affordable housing in Boise. On the proposals of a downtown stadium or an F-35 mission coming to Boise, Hansen said "more voices from impacted areas" are needed in the discussion. Regarding transportation, Hansen said Boise needs more buses running more often and on more routes that serve the entire city, not just downtown. "The people of Boise like to think big," he said. "We should be taking bigger, bolder steps toward becoming a world leader in sustainability."
Nicholas Jones, 31, is a business owner and full-time lecturer at Boise State University. He owns five businesses across the Treasure Valley and has served in multiple leadership roles for other Boise companies. Jones has helped lead teams of up to 120 workers and teaches leadership at Boise State.
Jones said the city council should be looking to provide "easier planning and development steps that do not sacrifice the beauty we have in Boise." He said, "It's not so much what the Boise City Council is not doing, but what they are doing right." He is hoping to follow in the footsteps of outgoing Councilwoman Maryanne Jordan by "providing a voice of reason and helping to establish a cohesive Boise City Council that has the interest of Boise at heart."
Holli Woodings, 38, is a business owner, community leader and former Idaho House Representative (2012-2014). She also serves on the board of directors of the Boise State University Foundation and is the chair of the board of directors for the Girl Scouts of Silver Sage Council.
Woodings said, if elected, she'll work to "enrich our communities, develop our economy and grow our city in a smart manner." She said it's important through it all "to be transparent, listen to all sides, ask questions and make decisions that benefit our residents and position us for the future." Woodings said the current Boise City Council "has shown strong leadership on issues that are important to Boiseans," and she wants "a seat at the table to continue that leadership." She said while the city continues to experience high growth, "we need to make transportation a priority," with ValleyRide expanding hours and increasing frequency of buses. Concurrently, she said it's crucial to look at different funding methods for the bus system and "ensure streets are safe for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles—these are all part of the solution."