Boise City Council President Lauren McLean raised some eyebrows in May when she announced that she was challenging four-term Boise mayor Dave Bieter for the 2020 election. McLean was appointed by Bieter, with Council approval, in 2010.
But McLean argues that it is time for a mayor who can take a fresh look at Boise’s challenges, particularly related to growth.
We sat down with McLean to learn more about her campaign and what it could mean for business.
What led you to decide to run for mayor?
In listening session after listening session across the city in April, I was hearing so many concerns and worries about the rising cost of living, the lack of affordable housing, an increase in traffic and congestion with no clear plan with how to deal with it, and an overall concern that citizens were feeling left out of the process and shut out of the decisionmaking in decisions about our future. So when faced with all this, I felt it was time for someone with new energy and new ideas and a proven ability to bring people together to step up and offer solutions.
Couldn’t you do that from your position as Council member and president?
As mayor, you set the tone and agenda for the city, and the Council often responds to that. We need a leader who will build new relationships, walk away from old grudges that have existed for too long and engage the public in authentic ways around a discussion about our future, and that’s what the mayor’s office should do and can do.
What led you to run now instead of waiting for an open seat?
Sixteen years is a long time for someone to be in office. With the weight of the problems that have grown in Boise, sitting back and waiting another four years wasn’t the right thing for our residents. So I made the tough decision, rather late, to jump in. I saw a need and decided it was time.
How’s it working out for you?
We have over 260 volunteers. We have held over 30 big Boise listening tours that attract, on any given day, at least 20 people and sometimes 50 to 60 people. Young people are jumping in and getting engaged. People are talking about the future of our community. It’s been a humbling experience thus far.
You have a background ranging from conservation and open space to urban renewal. What will be your priorities?
My platform is online. My priority will be to restart relationships, with what is truly a new generation of leaders throughout this valley to come up with an actionable plan for public transportation. And to focus on more, new, bolder affordable housing solutions. But of course, with my background in conservation, and a long history in advocating for climate-friendly policies that build economies, issues of conservation, clean water, open spaces and clean energy will run throughout. In a 21st-century city, it’s imperative that we seek the opportunities that innovation around climate could bring us. That impacts the affordability of homes, everyone’s pocketbooks and economic opportunity in the long run.
What’s your plan for business?
The Brookings Institution report on Boise provided a great roadmap for building a strong 21st-century economy that allows everyone to participate in our valley’s prosperity. I met with the researchers and the takeaways were clear: We need to work as a region, to invest in affordable housing, transportation, child care, pre-K and education through college and beyond to create opportunity for our residents, while focusing on supporting and building homegrown businesses, and being strategic in the companies we recruit and insisting that they are committed to investing in our people, rather than seeking handouts and cheap labor.
Aren’t some of these items, like transportation and education, handled by the state?
The importance then reflects back on a mayor convening leaders from various sectors to have those conversations. Those topics can be addressed locally and regionally through partnerships with the school district, bringing pre-K to all neighborhood schools, through developing a shared vision around how we move residents from their homes to their jobs. The stronger the relationships that are built, the more likely it is that a vision can be shared and solutions dreamed up. With that partnership regionally, I know that we can work with the state to partner as well.
How would you fund this?
The decisions we make from a budget perspective reflect our values. The city has been a partner with local pre-K initiatives. It’s necessary now to have a conversation about how we can afford to provide that for all neighborhoods. Results are clear that having access to good pre-K puts you on a path toward prosperity. For transportation and other issues, it’s a conversation we all have to have. For 16 years, leaders have been fighting for local option tax with no results. So now it’s most important that, regionally, we agree on what we need and then have the conversation about the various ways that funding could make that a reality.