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For Lauren McLean, being Boise mayor is ‘the honor of my life,’ and she’d like four more years

Candidates for Boise mayor are (left to right) Aaron Reis, Joseph Evans, Mike Masterson, and incumbent Lauren McLean
Courtesy Aaron Reis, Joseph Evans, Mike Masterson, Lauren McLean
Candidates for Boise mayor are (left to right) Aaron Reis, Joseph Evans, Mike Masterson, and incumbent Lauren McLean

“At the times when it's most difficult, is when we most need people committed and called to service.”

For Lauren McLean, she fell in love with Boise not unlike most people … as a citizen. Then, she became an advocate, specifically for the Boise Foothills. Then, she was appointed to the Boise City Council, and ultimately she became the city’s 56th mayor, the first woman elected to that position in the city’s 150-year-plus history.

“It has been the honor of my life the last four years to serve alongside an incredible team of employees,” said McLean. “[Working with] great partners and leaders in the city. and importantly, the residents of Boise…as we tackle the needs of our city with an eye towards the future.”

With just a few days before Election Day, McLean visits with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the intersection of her personal and professional passions, the city’s new zoning code, change at the Boise Police Department, and much more.

Boise State Public Radio spoke with all four Boise mayoral candidates. You can find the other interviews here:

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning, I'm George Prentice. In the final days before election day, we are spending time with each of the candidates in the high-profile race for who should be the mayor of Boise. So, let's welcome in Boise mayor Lauren McLean. Mary McLean, welcome back to the program.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Good morning. George. It's always great to be here.

PRENTICE: I'd like to talk to you about a few important moments. I think in your first four years in office. I'm going to take you back to what I would assume you would agree would be one of the challenging times. It seems like forever ago, when we think about what happened and you chose to share with us something that intersected your professional and personal lives, a time when there were pandemic inspired protests outside your home. Also, there were what you called sinister threats against you and your family that prompted a security detail. You ended your early morning trail runs and other compromises, but talk to me about what you learned from that. Most importantly, the lens that you look through when you recommit to a life in public office.

MCLEAN: You know, George, I appreciate the question. It's a hard question because I often try not to go back to those experiences. And while I want to say our entire community experienced difficulties and challenges like no other time before, and I deeply appreciate the way Boiseans responded to help each other, how we built partnerships and efforts to support businesses, schools, teachers, child care providers. In the midst of all that, we had to make tough calls. And you're right, they were really early in my term. I will often say my office was still devoid of furniture as we were determining how with the governor, with others, we could act to protect Boiseans at the city level because it was so important. We used the through line of putting people first, and that wasn't without consequences. I'd say the good consequences are that we emerge from this pandemic beating the odds. Unlike other cities where our businesses are thriving, we encountered challenges but responded as a community. And so I'd say one of the things that I take away from that time is how deeply committed Boiseans are to acting in the moment, to meet challenges with an eye towards the future, ensuring that we remain the city that we are for those that come after us. But I'd also say it was really hard and not something that I like to think back on. When we started having protesters at our house, when I took the step after talking with many medical professionals to protect Boiseans, and they showed up at my house en masse with weapons with, you know, a lot of rhetoric, pitchforks, torches. Once it was dark and they came every week. And what I gained from that is a realization that in the face of really tough things, I'm going to continue to make tough calls to protect Boiseans. I feel bolstered by the community when doing that, that my family grew closer and my community, my neighbors, became like family. And still to this day, our neighborhood has changed so much for the better because we took care of each other and they sought to help take care of my family. During that time.

PRENTICE: I'm going to guess that you never really envisioned running for office when you were growing up. I don't think that was probably the big dream for you.

MCLEAN: No, I can't say I ever dreamed of that.

PRENTICE: That said, public service is a noble calling. And so, what is your message to students, for instance, about leaning into public service at a time when it's really, really difficult to hold a public office?

MCLEAN: I would say to students, I'd say to anybody thinking about it, and I often talk about this, that at the times when it's most difficult, is when we most need people committed and called to service. I think that there is nothing more fulfilling than being able to serve this community that I love, whether it be when I was a student at Boise State myself, working alongside hundreds of Boiseans to protect our Foothills, or while I was in the middle of writing my thesis for my master's degree here, and I was serving on the parks board with my kids in tow. I've had the opportunities, as do all Boiseans, to serve this city, and felt called to do it because I love it so much. Never even in those days did I even think that I'd be in this role now. And it has been the honor of my life the last four years to serve alongside an incredible team of employees…great partners and leaders in the city and importantly, the residents of Boise…as we tackle the needs of our city with an eye towards the future.

PRENTICE: I want to ask about another turning point. And that was the hiring and ultimately the resignation of Ryan Lee, former chief of police. Putting all of the legal proceedings to the side. You have said that hindsight is always 2020 and, “I have learned so much from that.” What did you learn?

MCLEAN: Yeah, well, I learned that in a time when policing around the country is really tough, there are a lot of things that have to be juggled in making those decisions, both in supporting someone that was selected to lead, in supporting a staff of police officers at Boise Police Department, and responding to the community's expectations that policing evolve with our community. But I want to be clear on this one because I feel as though there's a lot of misinformation out there. This was a process that started about four years now. I wasn't yet mayor. The chief at the time retired right before an election, and a process was started to hire someone in January. There were multiple panels that interviewed the candidates. There was an agency panel. So I think law enforcement from around the region, a city panel of city staff and a community panel of leaders of nonprofits and advocates within the community, and they selected three finalists. And one of them was Ryan Lee. And I offered him the job and it didn't work out. I've also learned that we just have to recognize that sometimes things don't work out. And I am so honored and grateful to Ron Weininger for stepping in when his city needed him most and serving as chief alongside a great team of other directors at the city of Boise.

PRENTICE: I know he has said this. I'm going to guess he has said this to you and… is it's an open ended commitment from him?

MCLEAN: We were really upfront with each other when I called him. I said, “Ron, your city needs you and let's have a conversation about this.

PRENTICE: So, it’s not a temporary situation?

MCLEAN: It is just as any hire is. It's a hire, until somebody is ready to move on to the next thing. And then you have that conversation. But Ron is committed to the city. He's committed to me. He's committed to his team because he shares our values of the importance of investing in safety, justice and accountability, of being in the community, responsive to the community, and helps us better support our employees. At the city of Boise.

PRENTICE: You want every resident to be within a ten minute walk to a park. Where are we with that?

MCLEAN: I do so, you know, I think that this is a great pivot and to point out that in the last four years, we've had a lot of challenges as a community. Yet despite and through all of those challenges, our team has continued to make goals and deliver on results for Boise ends. And one of those goals that we set was to make sure that every I'd say Boise kid can walk safely to a park within ten minutes. We're just over 70% of the way there with new purchases of land that we've made in the last three years, but just know that because we set a goal, we are measuring it and we're making progress. And that's what I'm so excited about, is we've built momentum on this, on housing and other things. We're measuring that progress. We're going to keep at it until every kid in Boise can walk safely to a park within ten minutes.

PRENTICE: There are more than a few folks who live in the western part of the city or southwest Boise who would like to see more access to parks and or a library branch. Do you think that's going to happen?

MCLEAN: You know, that's I mean, Boiseans all around the city would like to see more access to parks and libraries. And so right now, in this fiscal year, part of my budget was to do a facilities plan for the library, to do a facilities plan. They're taking a look because I think we'll find there are other neighborhoods as well that need access to libraries. And the importance of branch libraries is there. And with parks, it's the same thing. We've got heat maps. We look at where those neighborhoods are. And in the last year or so, we've made quite a few investments in West and southwest Boise to help us move the needle on that goal.

PRENTICE: I have to assume that there's always an opportunity to learn from a campaign. What are you learning from this one?

MCLEAN: You always learn a lot from campaigning. Of course, you learn a lot throughout the year because I stay connected to Boiseans with Meet the Mayor events. Being out in community, doing all the things that I love to do. Four years ago we knocked on over 90,000 doors and this campaign we have knocked. Nearly 30,000 doors at this point, and I am learning that. As always, I say I'm learning again how much we love the city. I am hearing from Boiseans in every corner of the city how they really want us to keep working on ensuring that everyone has access to a home that's affordable. Whether you're a working person that's helping build these homes, you're in our schools, you're working in our restaurants, you ought to be able to afford a home in Boise. I learned that last time around, and it's why I became my highest priority in the midst of everything that has been happening in the last four years, we've made progress. We have momentum. And I'm learning again as I talk with folks how important that is and how much they want to see us continue to make the progress on providing homes for Boiseans at Boise budgets into the next four years.

PRENTICE: And is your answer, just to the layperson, on what a city can do to make housing affordable more affordable….Is it your impact on the inventory? And then, that changes the marketplace? You know, there are construction projects, etcetera. But most of us kind of like where we live.  So, what can a mayor do about that affordability.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean
Lauren McLean
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean

MCLEAN: So, what I'll say to people is there's no one silver bullet. So whether you're saying you're just going to move into this area of desert land and build homes there, or you're just going to do another project, that's not how this works. You've got to be creative and work with a team of people and build partnerships in the community to figure out really like an all hands on deck. But all ideas are possible approach to housing because there are things a city can do. Like our land bank that I worked on as a council member doubled down on as mayor. I'm so excited to see the progress in that space where we've taken land that was weedy lots next to a grocery store or a gravel lots next to a fire station, and those are becoming homes for Boiseans at working incomes and below. So deeply affordable homes. That's a strategy. We've created incentives because we don't build houses at the city of Boise. Developers do. So we went out and asked, what is it that you need to see to be a partner in ensuring that Boiseans who are seeking homes, can find them at their budgets? So we developed incentives, policy incentives, and we've measured those and we've changed them as we've needed to. We even did some crowdsourcing ideas. We took the innovation team at the city of Boise and talked with hundreds of people around the city and said, what should we do? Well, just a couple of weeks ago, our pilot project for Tiny Homes in Boise, the first one that was permitted in the city, now has people living in it. We're going to learn from that and do more of that. And those were residents ideas. And of course, there's the matter of making sure that we've got enough homes for Boiseans and the modern zoning code that updated exclusionary 1960s codes from well before many people in the city were even born. Now updated and creates a map with all of the above approach. Incentives for affordability, incentives for where you build and how it looks, and whether or not it's people oriented. And we're putting that. More homes for more people mixed with residents along the busiest streets in Boise. So in the long run, we can support transportation, but because there's space there and we can create more homes for Boiseans at Boise budgets. So really is and all of the above approach. It's been my highest priority because of what I learned from so many Boiseans as a council member. And on those doors and again, this time we've built momentum. We are demonstrating results against the goals that we set. We cannot afford to pause and start over.

PRENTICE: I want to end with that zoning code, because I think a lot of people forget how emotional that evening was when that vote came. And that after months and even years of conversation and outreach and public input, there were 18… I think it was something like 18 conditions on top of that zoning code that were organic; and that came from the community. Could you speak to that?

MCLEAN: Yeah, I'll start with that night. And that is the council was responsive to the community over multiple nights of testimony. We heard from hundreds of people 2 to 1 in favor of the changes, but council heard suggestions for feedback and built them into the new ordinance that will go into effect on December 1st. They passed it unanimously, and I was so proud of that. And that night was emotional, I would say in many respects because we just spent, you know, three, four nights together, hearing from Boiseans about their love for the city and their hopes for the future. And for me, that's what this was about, was our hopes for the future, ensuring that we have a city where everybody who works here can live here. And when I think back to how we started it, it had begun before I was mayor. I changed the committee, got some pushback from that, but I wanted it to be a committee that was reflective of our neighborhoods, of the diversity of opinion, the diversity of experience. We created a citizens committee of over 30 folks from all walks of life. They had a lot of debates themselves on the merits of this, and there was one draft that got changed a lot after hundreds of people showed up to have conversations about this and give feedback at school libraries in parks. We had thousands of people do the survey. We even had a summer intern who spent her summer setting up with interpreters or Mexican markets to ask questions, go into laundromats, and talking to people. I think you might have talked to her, actually. And so we took her feedback. The committee heard all of this, made changes themselves, presented it to Council. This is a document that embodies the vision that we have for the future of our city that was impacted by thousands of Boiseans, as the best work in the city always has been. And it creates the map that allows us to ensure that we've got police stations in our neighborhoods, fire stations to keep people safe, parks within ten-minute walks, pathways, and ultimately transit a functioning transit system on our busiest streets that will be homes, to people and to businesses. Thanks to the work of so many that made our modern zoning code possible and gives us that vision and the toolkit to ensure that we're safe and welcoming city for everyone well into the future.

PRENTICE: Mayor Lauren McLean, good luck on Election Night. We appreciate it and we look forward to talking to you again soon.

MCLEAN: It's always wonderful to talk, George. Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on X @georgepren

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