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Eye On Boise

CdA’s political waters calm, as mayor, council go uncontested in November

Seven-year-old Cason Sperber, center, and Kyle Johnson,7 made good use of the newly opened playground area at McEuen Park in Coeur d'Alene on Friday, May 23, 2014. (Kathy Plonka)
Seven-year-old Cason Sperber, center, and Kyle Johnson,7 made good use of the newly opened playground area at McEuen Park in Coeur d'Alene on Friday, May 23, 2014. (Kathy Plonka)

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By Betsy Z. Russell

Despite a history of hard-fought campaigns and an unsuccessful but bitter recall attempt against the mayor and council just five years ago, Coeur d’Alene’s city elections are looking much different this fall: Mayor Steve Widmyer and three city council members all are running unopposed.

Friday’s 5 p.m. filing deadline came and went without anyone other than the four incumbents filing to run in November.

“I think people are happy,” said Councilor Kiki Miller. “I think there was a lot of chaos in the city government business going on, and the community really rallied around wanting that to go away. And I think that we’ve created a positive business climate and less stress for the community.”

Councilor Dan English, who’s been on the council for two years and isn’t up for election this year, said, “It’s very unusual … given all of the hubbub and everything else.”

English, who long served as the Kootenai County clerk, is familiar with political hubbub; he was the last remaining Democrat to hold partisan elected office in Kootenai County when he was defeated in 2010. City council seats are nonpartisan in Idaho.

“We’ve got a pretty healthy balance,” English said. “We’ve got a pretty good range of folks on the council. And I’m happy to see at different times we have split votes and they split differently on different issues, so that’s, I think, a healthy sign.”

When dissenters who objected to city urban renewal projects and made a major makeover of McEuen Park their flashpoint pressed a recall effort against then-Mayor Sandi Bloem, who was in her third term, and three council members, it nearly made the ballot in 2012. Every seat was contested in the next election four years ago; two of three council seats were contested in 2015 and one incumbent was defeated.

“Four years ago, I had a pretty tough campaign – I had to work hard and campaign hard to win the election,” Widmyer said. He called the lack of competition this year “highly unusual.”

Widmyer said he still plans to campaign, and noted that there could be write-in challengers. “I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said. “I’m still going to do some campaigning, because I think everybody’s vote matters.”

City Councilor Amy Evans, who like Miller is uncontested in November, said, “It definitely is an honor and privilege to be able to continue to serve, so I’m looking forward to the next four years, continuing some of the projects that we’ve got under way and working with the team that we’ve got in place.”

In addition to Evans, Miller and Widmyer, Councilor Woody McEvers will be uncontested on November’s ballot; he’s served on the council since 2002.

“I just think things have evolved,” Evans said. “The city is strong. … McEuen’s up and beautiful and highly utilized right now. The community is fully enjoying it, many thanks to the previous administration for all their hard work on that.”

The $20 million renovation of McEuen Field into McEuen Park was completed in 2014, and now features the city’s largest playground and splash pad; tennis, pickleball and basketball courts; an off-leash dog park; a veterans memorial; a grassy amphitheater that can hold up to 5,000 people and more. The park is adjacent to Lake Coeur d’Alene and boat launching and mooring facilities, and contains the trailhead for Coeur d’Alene’s popular Tubbs Hill trail. The makeover also included hundreds of new underground parking spaces, tucked below the street to open up acres more of park land, and street and utility improvements around the site.

Widmyer said, “I got in just at the tail end when McEuen was completed. I think the people now see McEuen Park and they see all the families enjoying it – I have not heard one person come to me and say McEuen Park was a huge mistake.”

Widmyer noted that in the past four years, the city also increased its police force and built a new fire station; and de-annexed a portion of its urban renewal districts, while still continuing to pursue renewal projects including rebuilding Seltice Way and pursuing redevelopment of the Atlas Mill site for a public-private development. “A big issue in Coeur d’Alene is public access to the water,” he said. “There’s 3,700 front-feet of riverfront there – that’s really the last piece of ground in the city of Coeur d’Alene available for public access.”

Miller said her lesson from the McEuen episode “was that it was a giant growing pain – and it is painful for change like that to occur. … There’s a lot of good people, people who were against it and people who were for it, and they’re all still good people. I think anyone who walks by there can, on any given day, see the huge amount of increase in use of that space. It’s just immeasurable.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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