Opportunity Knocks

Residents want Bieter to turn a mandate into actual changes


After winning a second term with more than 63 percent of the vote, what's a mayor to do with the political capital afforded by an easy victory?

In this case, the question goes to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who handily defeated his opponent, Council Member Jim Tibbs, in November. Throughout the campaign, Bieter was criticized for having a flashy spiel and a nice-guy image but failing to make many substantive changes.

Bieter has repeatedly focused on his intention to expand the city's library system and parks, as well as the work done to straighten out city hall after the Brent Coles scandal.

But even his supporters would like to see him embrace his new opportunity.

"Voters have shown that we like him," said Lauren McLean, a Boise resident who volunteered during Bieter's first campaign. "He needs to take his popularity by taking the reigns. He can do this by truly leading and taking bold steps. Boise could truly be a model city.

"Election day made that clear. We not only want him to do that, but expect him to do that," she said. "He had four years to get used to the job and to talk, and now we've given him four years to act."

One of Bieter's biggest supporters is a man who knows how fickle political popularity can be. Cecil Andrus, Idaho's only four-term governor, warns that no one can rest on election-night popularity.

"There is no such thing as a mandate in politics, and I know, I've been there," Andrus said. "You can go from hero to zero in seconds in the political field."

Andrus gives high praise to Bieter for the integrity he has brought to the office, and said Bieter needs to continue to be a hands-on mayor while serving those who returned him to office.

"In the political field, people change, but the problems stay the same," Andrus said.

McLean said she would like to see Bieter continue to push for more green building initiatives, as well as work on transportation and clean air—both issues that many people who spoke to BW identified as top priorities.

"He has an opportunity to not only speak, but act and build a coalition of citizens that could make these things happen," she said.

Even those who helped lead the charge against Bieter say he has an opportunity to break new ground.

Matt Ellsworth, who served as Tibbs' campaign manager, said the election set a new agenda for the city.

"It's a new discussion now," Ellsworth said. "Now we're talking about things for the city of Boise that we weren't talking about before. There's pressure on the mayor to deliver some results on the things we've been talking about."

Ellsworth said this is Bieter's chance to do something different.

"The criticism we've heard in the previous four years, from many, [is that there's] been a lot of talk about what we can do, and there's been a lot of great speeches, but now we've got to do something," he said. "The bar's been set pretty high."

Ellsworth points to adding more officers to the city's police department, raising their pay and improving relationships with other governmental agencies as examples of what Bieter could reasonably do in his next term.

"Those are things that can be achieved," he said. "He can affect those with a full four years. He has the opportunity to produce a result. Many of the things he talked about in his campaign are not realistic to be done in four years," Ellsworth said, referring in particular to Bieter's plans for mass transit.

Ellsworth said the margin of Bieter's victory doesn't change what people will expect from him.

"Voters clearly said, 'We trust you for another four years,'" he said. "He went to the voters of Boise with a vision, and the people of Boise are going to hold him up to his promises and to stay there for four years. It's the responsibility of gaining the trust of the people and getting elected.

"I hope he seizes on it, and I think he can," Ellsworth said.

Lee Flinn, executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho, said the margin of victory does matter, and sees Bieter's win as a clear mandate.

She also sees transportation and mass transit as an achievable goal, and one that is key for protecting valley air quality.

Flinn said her group wants to see Bieter continue to push hard on environmental causes. Items on her wish list include continued opposition to a proposed cyanide leaching gold mine at the headwaters of the Boise River and further reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

A different kind of transportation is on the mind of residents in the west end of the city.

"The biggest issue that we're facing out in our area is all the street-widening projects being done by [the Ada County Highway District]," said Stephen Loop, president of the West Valley Neighborhood Association.

Between expansion projects on Ustick, Cloverdale and Five Mile roads and increasing traffic from Meridian and points west, Loop said existing neighborhoods are seeing some negative effects.

To help remedy the situation, Loop wants to see more focus on public transit, as well as a commitment to the fledgling coalition between the cities, county and ACHD.

Residents in other areas of the city are also feeling in need of attention.

Idaho Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, president of the Borah Neighborhood Association and organizer of the Infill Task Force, would like to see some of the work done in downtown Boise extended across the city.

"[I would like] the city and [the Capital City Development Corporation] to extend its range up to the central Bench area," Werk said. "We need to redevelop the central Bench.

"We would like to see the city come up onto the Bench area and realize just how critical the Bench area is to the future of the city, and invest resources there as it has in other areas of the city," he said.

Werk doesn't believe the criticism of Bieter is fair, adding that much of the work done during Bieter's first term was focused on internal city hall changes.

"Those things are invisible to the public," he said. "I've worked with three different mayors, and Bieter and the City Council have been just exceedingly productive."

Werk views the election results as a mandate for Bieter. "Elected leaders should have vision and follow that vision through, and that's how you lead in your community," he said.

Bieter said he's well aware of those expectations and said he "absolutely" sees the election as a mandate.

"Not only am I fine with that, but that's what I expect as well," Bieter said. "That was part of my first term, raising expectations. Expectations are up; that makes it challenging, but that makes it right."