Dave Bieter needed a moment to think about how many election campaigns he's waged in the past 15 years.
"Let's see," he said, counting with the fingers on one of his hands. "One... two at the Legislature..."
Those first legislative races were in 2000 and 2002, after Bieter's unexpected entree to politics when he assumed the Idaho House seat of his father, Rep. Pat Bieter, following Pat and Eloise Bieter's tragic deaths in an automobile crash.
"And then three, four, five and this is my sixth campaign—fourth for mayor, "Bieter continued.
You don't have to be a political scientist to conclude hizzoner's electoral reach extends beyond the elections in which his name is on the ballot. Bieter has had a tangible impact on elections for the Ada County Highway District, the Greater Boise Auditorium District, and various bond and levy initiatives to fund schools and fire stations.
This election cycle is no different. One could even say Bieter is on the 2015 general election ballot twice: first for his bid for a historic fourth term in office and again with the 2015 Foothills Open Space and Boise River Levy (see Page 9), for which Bieter has been campaigning as much as his own reelection.
"I'm going door to door, working on the open space levy," Bieter told Boise Weekly while walking the block in a West Boise neighborhood Oct. 17. "We're a little further away from the foothills, but I met a gentleman who was actually in my father's class at North Junior High back in the 1950s, who told me he probably wouldn't directly benefit, but he said others folks would, so he supported it."
Whether by design or coincidence—and there has been little coincidence in Bieter's political career during the past 12 years—he was belying the major criticism lodged against him by his toughest challenger, Judy Peavey-Derr, who opposes the foothills levy and accuses the mayor of ignoring seniors in particular and the west side in general.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Bieter told BW as he stood in West Boise's Redwood Park near Ustick Road. "I could give you a list of resources and amenities that we've spread across the city. There were no branch libraries when I came into office. Now, we have them across the city. We only had one rec center at Fort Boise. We put in three more and they're incredibly popular. And of course the parks and the new fire stations that we'll be putting in."
During an Oct. 22 candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Idaho at the Boise Library, Peavey-Derr insisted "we could do more for West and South Boise," quickly adding Boise seniors are struggling.
While seniors and West Boise have been a consistent theme in her campaign, Peavey-Derr's remarks regarding the growing refugee community in Boise have grabbed the most headlines and further separated her from Bieter.
Asked by an audience member why Boise continues to welcome refugees while there are homeless men and women in need, Bieter pushed back against the premise of the question, pointing to the city's successes in welcoming refugees as its newest residents and adding that most refugees have secured housing and employment.
Peavey-Derr embraced the question, saying there is tension in supporting both groups.
"I think there's a finite amount of money," she said. "I think we need to take care of the homeless before we accept the additional burdens and issues that come with refugees."
Only a week earlier, Peavey-Derr made headlines when, during an interview with readers impaneled by the Idaho Statesman's editorial board, said, "I think that the south end of Boise is getting blighted by a lot of refugees and different dialects coming into the school. I think the children are having—124 dialects in one school system is a little rough."
Bieter called Peavey-Derr's comments "incredibly disappointing" while John Reuter, former executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho, called the remarks "borderline racist politics" (BW, Citizen, "Parents, Politics and Passions," Oct. 21, 2015).
Still, Bieter isn't taking anything for granted. He told BW he's continuing his door-to-door efforts and is anxious to tell anyone who will listen about accomplishments. It won't be the last time he hits the campaign trail.
"One of my heroes is a fellow by the name of Joe Riley," said Bieter, referring to the mayor of Charleston, S.C., who is finishing his tenth term in office.