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How volunteers are mounting campaign to oust Boise’s new mayor: ‘This is just fun’

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Posted at 10:45 AM, Sep 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-04 12:45:16-04

BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by Hayley Harding of the Idaho Statesman.

For Joe Newton, there is nothing quite like driving his truck around Boise, blaring Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” with his windows down.

You may have seen him around. Almost every day for the past three weeks, he has hauled a trailer covered with a bright yellow wrap instructing anyone he drives past to recall Mayor Lauren McLean and Council Member Lisa Sánchez.

The wrap was paid for with money from donors who believe in the cause. The trailer and some t-shirts are the only expenses incurred so far by the McLean recall effort, the campaign chair, Lynn Bradescu, a Boise real estate agent, told the Statesman. Newton and 150 other volunteers, by his estimate, hope to gather the 26,000-plus signatures needed to get the recall on the May 2021 ballot.

Thanks to the recall effort’s website, which has a PayPal donation page linked to Bradescu’s email, the campaign has received donations locally and from out of state. From the campaign’s launch July 15 through the end of that month, it collected $1,432, according to the campaign’s first finance report — the only one filed so far.

Most of the money, Bradescu said, is coming in small donations of $5 and $10, “just like Bernie Sanders.”

LOW-BUDGET CAMPAIGN RECEIVES SMALL DONATIONS

“We’re getting donations from people out of state, saying ‘I used to live in Boise, I hate what’s going on there,’ or ‘Good luck, I’m planning on moving there, and I don’t want to see what happened to where I’m moving from happen in Boise,’” Bradescu said.

Most come from local donors, Braddock said, but it’s hard to know exactly who has been donating. Idaho campaign finance law does not require that donors of less than $50 be identified, so the finance report does not name them.

In July, $45 was given by Bradescu, a real estate agent, and $30 by William Braddock, husband of campaign treasurer Pat Braddock, whose LinkedIn page says she retired from the Boise Police Department in 2012.

“This is very grassroots,” Braddock said. “This is not a big, well-financed campaign. We’re just getting a lot of energy and interest from all the citizens.”

Organizers told the Statesman in July that their effort is based on what they see as errors in judgment and transparency from city leaders.

McLean, they say, ran her campaign as a moderate but has released a “radical agenda” since taking office. In a list organizers shared with the Statesman, they cite concerns over a transition team’s report to McLean that recommended Boise become a sanctuary city, offer free abortions and teach sex education in schools starting in pre-K.

None of those plans has come to fruition or even been seriously suggested beyond the transition report. McLean has said the report was not a policy document, just one of several sets of recommendations she requested from transition teams as she began her term.

Organizers also fault McLean for COVID-19 lockdowns that closed businesses and what they called a “common sense plan to get schools open in the fall,” even though the mayor’s office is not in charge of schools. Her business-closing and face-mask orders were later superseded by orders from Gov. Brad Little and the Central District Health Department.

Sánchez drew ire after she wrote an open letter on Facebook in June to the parents of Michael Wallace, a white man who was suspected of firing a gun at a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Idaho Statehouse.

Sánchez, the only person of color on the Boise City Council, writes to Wallace’s parents that he “won the race lottery” because he was able to be arrested and taken into custody after the incident. She signed it, “Love, Lisa Sanchez, Brown woman who chose not to have children for fear of their abuse and murder by white people.”

Organizers say that was racist.

No money has been reported in the effort to recall Sánchez.

Someone two weeks ago flew a small private plane near downtown Boise with a banner telling people to recall the mayor. That was independent of the recall campaign, Bradescu and Braddock said. People have also produced stickers and t-shirts independently, they said.

“That’s just people taking it on themselves,” Braddock said.

WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR A RECALL IN BOISE?

The recall effort originated in May with a change.org petition calling for McLean’s recall. Created by Dan Alexander, a Boisean who works in sales, under the pseudonym “Do Better Boise,” the online petition gathered more than 30,000 signatures, many from people who do not live in Boise or even Idaho.

Alexander, along with Joe Filicetti, a lawyer who has represented Boise police officers, and Karene Alton, a real estate agent, submitted paperwork to begin the legal effort July 15.

McLean, a Democrat, took office in January after defeating incumbent Democratic Mayor David Bieter in a runoff election in December for the nonpartisan job. To recall her, organizers need to gather 26,108 signatures from registered Boise voters. That would be more than 11% of all Boiseans.

The number is based on state code, which requires “20% of the number of electors registered to vote at the last general city election held in the city for the election of officers” to sign a recall petition for a vote to be called.

The effort could go before voters next spring if organizers are able to collect enough signatures. To succeed, the recall must equal or exceed the 23,669 votes McLean received in the original Boise mayoral race in November 2019. The Boise City Council would choose a new mayor.

McLean declined to comment for this story. She said during a City Club of Boise event held shortly after the recall was announced that she was “not going to be distracted” by the recall effort.

In a guest opinion the Statesman posted Thursday, she encouraged Boiseans to “reject bully tactics.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she wrote. “I hope you aren’t, either.”

“PEOPLE WHO HAVEN’T FELT HEARD”

Alton said the campaign has been overwhelmed by the response. She declined to say how many signatures had been collected so far, saying only that the number is “robust.”

The goal is to submit 40,000 signatures, she said, to have enough signatures to cover any that may be invalid.

“People want to be heard,” Alton said. “It’s a lot of people who haven’t felt heard who are participating in this.”

One of those is Newton, the truck driver. He got involved after counter-protesting at a Black Lives Matter rally in June, where he said he saw both protesters and counterprotesters got into fights He was angered the next day when McLean condemned just counterprotesters. He said he took the statement personally.

Newton, 42, a resident of Southeast Boise, said he has never been politically active before. He got the gig after the previous driver went on vacation.

He declined to say what he does for a living except that he is self-employed. The coronavirus has reduced his work, he said, so he has the flexibility to spend six or more hours a day driving the trailer around.

He drives to events where volunteers gather signatures and sometimes stops to gather signatures himself.

The trailer, he says, makes all the difference. He occasionally gets flipped off, he said, but for every bird he receives, he estimated that 10 people honk in support or dance for the cause to “Sweet Caroline.”

“Everybody loves it,” he said. “They want to have their picture taken. People come and sign with our volunteers, then they go jump right over to the trailer and they take selfies.”

“I’d be hard pressed to think I’d have a better time in Hawaii,” he said. “This is just fun.”