Writings and observations

Record breaking

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In 1985 one of Boise’s most significant mayors, Richard Eardley, was wrapping up a record 12 years in office, his third term, and mulling whether to run for a fourth. He didn’t.

Those were the days of the downtown mall wars, and Eardley had been through the wringer. He was no doubt getting tired of the conflict and the stress, and his long-held vision for developing Boise was being overturned. But there was also this: He probably wouldn’t have won, and he likely knew that. In that year’s mayoral election, a city councilman allied with Eardley lost decisively to a first-time candidate named Dirk Kempthorne, who was aligned with an opposition group.

Last week, Boise did what it never has done before in electing a mayor to a fourth four-year term. (Long-ago Mayor James A. Pinney won five terms, but those lasted just two years each.) David Bieter, first elected in 2003, not only won for a fourth time (breaking Eardley’s record for tenure) but won big, with more than two-thirds of the vote, against an experienced opponent who herself had won local elective office several times.

What accounts for Bieter’s track record?

It isn’t that all of his proposals or policies have been popular, though some have. Mention “downtown streetcar” and even many of Bieter’s friends will back away. But many of his efforts have been popular enough. The Boise foothills levy, also on the ballot Tuesday, won almost three-fourths of the vote.

Bieter seldom has gotten very far away from what most of the voters in Boise find acceptable. He has been a likable and presentable face for the city. And while he has accumulated some complainers over time, they have never amounted to numbers large enough to take him out. He may make proposals, but he doesn’t go on crusades; he has been active in office, but nothing seems to have worn him down, or out. And while he has never been a great orator, Bieter does have solid political and campaigning skills.

Next door to Boise, in Meridian – Idaho’s third-largest city – Mayor Tammy de Weerd was re-elected, by a margin even greater than Bieter’s (though her opposition was slighter). She too was first elected in 2003, and last week won a fourth term. She too has been an active mayor – could hardly be otherwise in a city growing as fast as Meridian has – but rarely has been very controversial.

Is a fourth term the limit? Is a still longer run realistic?

In many smaller cities, where the bench of prospective candidates may be smaller, mayors sometimes serve for several decades. In larger cities, shorter runs are the norm, if only because many more people may be interested in the job.

Still, cast your eyes a few miles over, to Caldwell, where Garret Nancolas is now in the middle of his fifth term as mayor, having won that term two years ago with 65 percent of the vote.

A dozen years would seem to be plenty to hold such an office, much less 16. But in the end, it’s up to the voters, and to candidates who continue to find ways of appealing to them.

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