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Mayoral challengers focus on spending, jobs

North Idaho incumbents cite cities’ successes

Three challengers seek to unseat mayors in Kootenai County’s two largest cities Nov. 3.

In Coeur d’Alene, Joseph Kunka is attempting to prevent Sandi Bloem, the city’s first female mayor, from also becoming the first to serve three terms. In Post Falls, Mayor Clay Larkin faces private investigator Steven De Gon and Matthew Behringer, a call center worker.

Coeur d’Alene

Bloem, 66, said the city’s recent successes, including securing the Salvation Army Kroc Corps Community Center and building a new downtown library, would have been impossible without numerous groups working in partnership. A jewelry store owner and fourth-generation city resident, Bloem lists job creation and ensuring a healthy, diverse economy as top priorities.

“The next four years are hard to predict because of the economy,” Bloem said. “We will look at continued fiscal responsibility and resourceful spending.”

Bloem said one of the city’s biggest challenges has been engaging newcomers without losing its strong sense of community. “I love what I’ve been doing,” she said. “I’m honored to serve.”

Kunka, 49, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2005 and for City Council in 2007. A marketing manager for a company that turns restaurant grease into biodiesel, Kunka said Coeur d’Alene needs to diversify its job base and create more living-wage jobs. He proposes attracting companies by offering them tax breaks but said they must also provide living-wage jobs.

“You can’t have both,” he said, referring to companies that receive tax incentives but don’t pay well.

Kunka said he’s concerned about gang activity and wants to develop a youth center in which admission fees would be based on improvement in school. He also wants to provide more affordable housing for the city’s work force. “We have to take care of the people that live here year-round,” he said.

The mayor’s position pays $32,400 a year.

Post Falls

Clay Larkin has been mayor since 2001 and served on the City Council for five years before that. Larkin, who retired from a 30-year career in wholesale grocery distribution, said Post Falls has successfully attracted new businesses during his tenure, including Cabela’s and Sysco. He said the city built City Hall without raising taxes, and permit activity is up even in difficult economic times.

“The city is prospering quite well,” said Larkin, 73.

In the future, transportation will be at the forefront as the city works to complete two new Interstate 90 interchanges at Beck and Greensferry roads, Larkin said. He also lists increasing the health care provider community in Post Falls and protecting waterways from zebra mussels as top priorities.

“The city of Post Falls is at a critical juncture right now as far as direction in the future,” Larkin said. “I have the knowledge, the background and the experience this city needs to keep it going in a positive direction.”

Steven De Gon, a private investigator, said he’s concerned about the city’s spending. Born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, De Gon moved to Post Falls in 2000. He said the city hasn’t adequately notified residents of large-scale expenditures, such as the new police station and City Hall.

“That’s the people’s money,” said De Gon, 44. “People that live here have a right to know how the money’s being spent. It’s time to break up the good ol’ boy system in this town.”

A political newcomer and small-business owner, De Gon said he’d like to help small businesses, partly by providing tax relief to help them stay open. He also lists cutting the budget and attracting more industry as primary objectives.

De Gon was charged four years ago with battery after a woman he worked with accused him of groping her, police and court documents show. The charges were dropped after De Gon complied with court requirements. De Gon disputes the allegations and said in a recent letter to the editor he didn’t fight the charges because he wanted to save his family from embarrassment.

Candidate Matthew Behringer, 24, recently was laid off from an assembly-line job and said that experience helps him relate to people’s struggles. He landed his call center job a few months ago. Behringer said he is concerned with government spending, citing the construction of City Hall as an unnecessary project.

“There is money there that needs to be saved,” Behringer said. “The current system right now promotes overspending.”

Behringer said if elected he would work to lower property taxes and create jobs and would have an “open door” policy. Behringer, who has lived in the city for three years and is a first-time political candidate, said he would also work to recruit more manufacturing jobs by touting Post Falls’ “great work force.”

The position pays $18,963 annually.

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