Ten candidates are jostling for three seats on the Coeur d’Alene City Council, but one issue has come to dominate all of the races: the future of McEuen Field.
In May, the city approved a plan for the large waterfront park at the base of Tubbs Hill that would add a multi-level parking garage, a plaza, a promenade, a play area and a sledding area, and would remove the existing boat launch and ball fields. Opponents have collected 1,700 signatures from people against the plan.
The current City Council voted 5-1 in favor of the plan, giving challengers plenty of fodder.
One Council seat is sure to change. Councilman Al Hassell isn’t running for re-election, and five candidates are vying for the job. State Rep. George Sayler and author Dan Gookin have the most name recognition and face off against Patrick “Mitch” Mitchell, gas-station cashier Annastasia Somontes and former Army Specialist Derec Aujay.
A rundown of their views: Sayler says he supports the McEuen Field renovation and is opposed to holding a public vote on the issue but that he would have seconded a motion to discuss a public vote.* Aujay argues that the city doesn’t have the money for the McEuen overhaul. Somontes says that voices of low-income workers like hers aren’t represented on the Council, and the hefty price tag for the field project is proof of that. (Mitchell did not return phone calls.)
“Apparently, the mayor thinks she’s elected queen, when I think it’s more like she was elected house-sitter,” Somontes says. “You don’t let the house-sitter tear up your backyard when you’re on vacation.”
Gookin, who nearly won a seat on the Council in 2009, says the McEuen plan strays from the original intent of its eponymous donor, Mae McEuen. “She was very into youth sports,” Gookin says. “Pulling out the ball field would be counter to that.”
Gookin is a board member of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, a partisan group advocating more freedom and fewer taxes that’s been causing a stir by attempting to influence nonpartisan races in Coeur d’Alene.
City Councilman John Bruning is facing three opponents. Bruning, the head of the McEuen steering committee, defends removing the boat launch and says he thinks the public is split evenly on the question.
“These are supposed to be nonpartisan races,” Bruning says. “They are becoming partisan, because of the Reagan Republicans.”
Steve Adams, a Reagan Republican running against him, criticizes the Lake City Development Corporation, the urban renewal group that partnered with the city to develop the McEuen plan.
“It’s a scourge on the taxpayer. It subverts the will of the people by circumventing the Constitution,” Adams says. “[They’re a] board of unelected individuals, managing a large amount of taxpayers without their input. It’s taxation without representation.”
The third candidate, North Idaho College student Amber Copeland, says there should have been an advisory vote, but now it’s a moot point. She focuses on bringing economically stimulating events, like Battles of the Bands, to Coeur d’Alene.
In the third contest, nobody’s a strong supporter of renovating McEuen. Ron Edinger — first elected to the Council in 1968 — was the lone vote against the plan.
“I think in the long run, it’s going to be a big expense to the city,” Edinger says. “I don’t believe the Council has fully listened to all the people as they had the hearings.”
His opponent, marketing firm founder Adam Graves, argues that the media has overblown the McEuen issue. As Baby Boomers age, he says, Coeur d’Alene needs to create an innovative economy to attract young talent.
No matter what happens, supporters of the new McEuen Field design will remain in power, however slimly. While three seats are up for grabs, the other three sitting Council members still back the plan. And Mayor Sandi Bloem, the tiebreaker, continues to support it.
Bloem, however, asks voters to consider other topics — development, affordable housing, infrastructure — when voting.
“I think it’s important to look at the whole,” Bloem says. “I hope people won’t go to the polls because of one issue.”
* An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified George Sayler's views on holding a public vote on the McEuen Field renovation.