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Election has deep implications for Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls

Sat., Sept. 14, 2013

New mayors will pick up the gavels of North Idaho’s two largest cities early next year, while the Coeur d’Alene City Council could shift sharply to the right with a new conservative majority.

The November election holds the potential for big changes in leadership for the Lake City and Post Falls next door, with a packed field of 22 candidates running for eight seats. Candidate filing ended last week and now comes the campaigning.

The past two election cycles have set the stage for the showdowns voters will see this fall, said political consultant Jeff Ward, who has been active with Kootenai County Reagan Republicans.

“This will really determine the philosophical direction and governing philosophy of the two cities for a while, depending on what happens in this election,” Ward said.

Much is at stake with these races, said Eden Irgens, board president for Balance North Idaho, a political action committee that backed successful candidates for the Coeur d’Alene School Board and Kootenai Hospital District in May’s election.

“There are a lot of people out there who are very concerned about the future of this community and are looking forward and being positive about things that are going to happen here,” Irgens said.

A quarter-century of service is ending with the cities’ three-term mayors stepping down. Sandi Bloem, the first woman elected mayor of Coeur d’Alene, is leaving after 12 years in office. Clay Larkin is finishing his 13th year as mayor in Post Falls.

Their departures have drawn three contenders for mayor in Coeur d’Alene and two candidates – both serving on the City Council – seeking the post in Post Falls. Those look to be the races commanding the most attention this fall.

But council races are expected to be spirited as well. Three candidates are running for each of the three Coeur d’Alene council seats on the ballot, with just one incumbent in the mix.

Post Falls has one four-way council race and another in which the incumbent faces two challengers. One other incumbent is running uncontested.

Political action committees and partisan groups are busy interviewing candidates and preparing their endorsements. Growth, urban renewal costs, city salaries and expansion of a nondiscrimination ordinance are among the hot-button issues the Coeur d’Alene candidates are addressing.

A group that waged an unsuccessful campaign to recall Bloem and three council members last year is back in action as Reclaim Coeur d’Alene.

“The candidates do provide, I think, a very clear choice to the voters,” said Frank Orzell, chairman of the committee. “There are candidates that represent maintaining the status quo, and there are candidates who are committed to the changes that were the objective of our recall effort last year.”

His group’s primary issue has been the city’s push to rebuild McEuen Park – a $20 million project well underway – without first seeking the support of residents through a public vote.

“McEuen represents the largest project ever undertaken by the city, and we really wanted to have public input on it,” Orzell said.

There are other top issues facing the Coeur d’Alene candidates, he said, including where the city focuses its urban renewal dollars, how to ensure desirable growth in all areas of the city, and how generous the city is with employee compensation.

“We believe a much more effective leadership and management of city resources is really needed in order to get the responsive kind of government that we need for Coeur d’Alene,” Orzell said.

Decisions over McEuen may be in the rearview mirror, but the concerns the project raised about governance are very much on voters’ minds, Ward said.

“The question is whether or not the people should have a vote in large public expenditures – major decisions that change the character of the city,” he said. “I think that’s one of the huge issues that’s going to be brought up.”

Balance North Idaho revealed its endorsements Friday. Irgens said the board has taken no stand on how the council handled decisions related to the McEuen project.

“We’re looking forward and we’re talking to all these candidates about forward issues,” she said. “We’re not talking about history here.”

Irgens, who co-founded a branding and marketing firm, said she thinks the PAC has momentum from its spring election success as it heads into November’s elections.

“From what we’ve seen so far there’s a great makeup of people who have good energy, who are going to work really hard here,” she said. “It’s just great to see so many quality people who are passionate about their communities willing to jump in and do the work and be the voice of the people.”

Kootenai County Reagan Republicans soon will announce all its endorsements, too, said the club’s president, Jeff Tyler.

Most of the candidates the group backed in May lost, and Tyler attributed that to division within the party.

“We are trying to get to the point where we can work together more,” he said. “We’re going to be as strong as ever moving forward.”

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