Once Boise’s signature initiatives — one on a new downtown library and the other for a proposed sports park — made it to the ballot, Mayor David Bieter says, he knew they would pass.
And he knew he would probably lose his re-election bid.
In an email conversation with a supporter after Boise’s Dec. 3 runoff election, Bieter wrote frankly about his feelings on the ballot measures, the election results and the potential new main library for the city. He wrote in response to a man who emailed Bieter to compliment his leadership the day after he lost his re-election bid to City Council President Lauren McLean.
Bieter’s conclusion? He hated to lose, but he has no regrets.
Bieter’s conversation with David Carlson, who identified himself as a retiree and the former regional executive for the Presbyterian Church, was obtained by the Idaho Statesman via a public records request.
“You have held a city together that had undergone enormous growing strains,” Carlson wrote the morning after the runoff. “You have managed to keep a city feeling united, feeling one, even though there are undercurrents which could have — and in the next 4 years probably will — create major divisions.”
Bieter replied two days later with gratitude, surprise at “how thoroughly you understand our city,” and his own take on his defeat.
The city was just “months away” from accomplishing the goal of building a new library, the mayor wrote, “despite some very wealthy opposition.” He credited the ballot measures for stopping the new library in its tracks.
“Incidentally, the signature threshold was only 5,000 because the last city election had such a low turnout and the law bases the threshold on a percentage of turnout,” Bieter wrote. “It’s unfortunate that such a small minority can disrupt things that much.”
The two initiatives were brought forth by a new community group, Boise Working Together, which had gathered signatures from more than 5,000 registered Boise voters to get two proposed ordinances on the ballot. The first called for voter approval of any library project costing $25 million or more. The second called for voter approval of any stadium project costing $5 million or more. The library measure passed with 69% support, the stadium one with 75%.
Bieter wrote that he knew as soon as the measures made the ballot that “they’d win easily, and I would likely lose.” He said the library effort was robust but not “the kind that starts from scratch with a blank sheet of paper.”
“We built an effort designed to build the best damn library we could muster. I had run on it. So had councilmembers,” Bieter wrote, mentioning how he talked about it in State of the City addresses. “Off we went. We did not expect or prepare to go to war, but boy did we get one!”
In addition to the ballot measures, Bieter cited myriad things that he saw as working against him during the election: “6 opponents, unfavorable media, tough gender politics, the F35 mission, growth, and rising property values.”
“There was just no way,” he wrote.
He also wrote a lot about power and how it played into the election. Bieter said that “bit by bit you acquire a fair amount of power” while serving as mayor.
“I had hoped to use this power to build a great main library,” he wrote. He said Idaho’s political system “disperses power,” citing the Ada County Highway District, urban renewal agencies, school districts and the requirement of super-majorities to pass bonds.
It was ultimately “the resentment of the acquisition and use of power” that hurt, although it wasn’t clear if Bieter meant the library or his own re-election bid.
He wrote that he foresaw some elements and said he thought the city would overcome them, but other things he didn’t expect. He said former Boise State University President Bob Kustra’s “constantly railing on us” was a “huge surprise.” Kustra, a columnist for the Statesman and a member of its editorial board, wrote critically about Bieter.
“It’s a shame. I think a great library like the one we tried to build could make a great city even greater,” Bieter wrote. “Beautiful shared public spaces have become far too rare. Affordable family entertainment like the sports park would’ve given us is also uncommon. But reaching high was the whole idea. I don’t have a single regret.”
Bieter continued by talking about what he hopes comes next for Boise.
“We have such momentum countering homelessness and building affordable housing that I was excited to continue,” he wrote. “I’m hopeful it’s strong enough to keep going.”
Bieter told KTVB in an interview Dec. 20 that he likely would go to the private sector but declined to give specifics. He gave a hint in his email to Carlson, however, when he wrote that he is “exploring ways to help” the city’s effort on housing “from the private sector.”
He also wrote that public transportation is still a challenge for the city, although he said “nothing meaningful will happen” without the Legislature granting cities a funding source for it.
Bieter ended the email by proposing that the two men get together and talk “about your experiences, and maybe a bit of theology.”
“I’ve been blessed to serve for so long. It’s been a thrill,” Bieter wrote in the last paragraph of his email. “I have a 14 year old daughter. I hated to lose, but the timing is really fortunate to spend more time with her.”
Carlson could not be reached for comment Friday. The mayor’s calendar, obtained via records request, shows that Bieter and Carlson were scheduled to meet on Dec. 13 at The Brickyard, a Boise steakhouse. A spokesman for the mayor did not respond to requests to confirm whether the meeting happened.
David Klinger, a spokesman for Boise Working Together, said the resounding support for the two voter-approved ordinances contradicted the mayor’s claim that a “small minority” of people wanted more say on the library.
Klinger also said it was wrong to compare a community group’s ballot measures to a war.
“We’re not warring. We’re working together the best we can,” he said. “We asked constructive questions and raised valid points. That’s just good governance.”
The Statesman shared the email exchange with McLean and asked for comment. She replied through a transition spokeswoman that she plans to meet with members of Boise Working Together after taking office to discuss the best path forward that respects the intent of the voters on the ballot measures. Investing public money in a stadium “will not be a priority of my administration,” she said.
Carlson ended his Dec. 4 email: “So, don’t start thinking that you have screwed up in any significant way. I think you did amazingly well. In a few years (or less), Boise will be wishing it could have you back. You’ll become the great old man of the city. The love of the people will be expressed, unclouded by the dynamics of power. You will always be our leader.”
The Bieter-Carlson email exchange ended with Bieter forwarding Carlson’s agreement to meet to a mayoral assistant with a request to set up a coffee, lunch or drink at Carlson’s choice. Bieter added: “Best letter ever!”