The race for Bozeman’s next mayor is on, with the city’s registered voters already receiving mail-in ballots for the municipal election on Nov. 7.
Three candidates are competing for the job: the city’s incumbent mayor Cyndy Andrus, environmental attorney John Meyer and social worker Joey Morrison.
Just what are the stakes in this off-year, mayoral race?
In Bozeman, which is ranked as one of the fastest-growing micropolitan areas in the country, and where the median home price is currently more than $900,000, the mayor and city commission have been grappling with the problematic results of that growth, including a widely acknowledged lack of affordable housing, an influx in homeless urban campers, hundreds of illegal short-term rentals, and questions about the city’s changing development code, among other issues.
It’s also important to note that in Bozeman, the outgoing mayor is replaced by the current deputy mayor, who must first serve two years in that position before assuming the executive title. That means that Andrus is scheduled to relinquish her seat to Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham on Jan. 1 and that Cunningham will pass his deputy mayor title to whoever wins this year’s mayoral race.
Montana Free Press interviewed the candidates vying for that position, asking a series of open-ended questions about their political goals, the city’s trajectory and what makes each qualified to lead the city of Bozeman.
The answers to these five questions have been edited for length and minor contextual issues but otherwise appear as told during recent conversations at various coffee houses in Bozeman.
What is the single most important issue for your campaign and how do you plan on addressing it if elected mayor?
“The most important issue, I think, is the impact of growth. We can’t stop people from moving here, but what we can do is manage the impacts that growth has on our community. For example, we can look at how growth impacts housing … we can look at the impacts of growth on water, we can look at the impacts of growth on the climate. Those are all the places we can actually make policies around. We’re growing, and we’re changing, and we’re not stopping that.”
“I’m running for mayor of Bozeman to make our town the most sustainable on the planet. So, the single most important issue for me is sustainability, and that’s an umbrella term. It goes for everything from water to conservation, to housing, urban camping. All of these individual issues are under the umbrella of sustainability.”
“The single issue that I think I can make the biggest impact on… is repairing the relationship between the public and city hall. Huge issue. I think I’m up to that task, both because I’m a good communicator and organizer, and because I’ll treat this as a full-time job. I’m not afraid to go and talk to people I disagree with. I do it every day.”
What is a life experience or a quality you possess that has shaped your ability to be a leader in this community?
“I’ve had the experience as mayor for two terms, and I think with that comes the understanding of complex issues, the understanding of how government works, the understanding of relationships and building those relationships. I also think that good government is a combination of process people and issue people, and when you have people who understand the process and people who bring issues, you have a good combination of government. I am very much a process person.”
“I’m the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year college. I grew up in northwest Indiana, outside of Gary, Indiana. My sister worked at the Gary K-Mart when I was a kid. My mom was the first female laborer at the steel mill. She cut slabs of steel with a torch at Bethlehem Steel. She’d come home black as a piece of coal. She worked like a dog. My dad started pumping gas back when it was full service … you drive up to the gas station and somebody pumps gas for you. That’s what he did. And so, we were always taught that you work really hard, and you are rewarded for your work. So, I guess that my life experience has been that.”
“Growing up [being] raised by a single mom, while my father was in Montana state prison, and seeing the ways in which my community was no better from him being taken away, my family was no better from him being taken away, and he was no better. It hurt him deeply; it compromised his livelihood for the rest of his life, to go spend time in prison. What that has done has forced me … I’m not a black-and-white person, because I’ve been enmeshed in gray my entire life.”
What is the least important issue currently on the table, or the part of the job you don’t plan to dedicate much time to?
“I would, again, say that we are a policy-setting body, so we set policy, and we have a city manager who takes that policy and implements it. So, where I don’t spend time is implementing policy, and that’s not my job, and I don’t plan to spend time doing that … I want to spend my time meeting with people, and talking with people, and understanding what they think should be in the plan.”
“My sense is that the current commission spends a lot of time trying to mitigate bad developments … and I plan to spend very little time on that, and how I’m going to accomplish that is by having … the commissioners vote on whether there’s a water crisis, or whether there’s an affordable housing crisis, and if there are, the city can then put a moratorium on approving new developments, and I think that will save us a bunch of time and headache from having to worry about developments that nobody wants to approve to begin with.”
“I do think, because it’s been a very frustrating thing to have thrust into this campaign, largely because of John Meyer, is the moratorium. Absolutely horrific idea. This idea that we just need to stop building and that’ll give us time to evaluate where we’re at … You can look at every community that’s ever done it. All it does is double the property values. If you’re already losing folks making $70,000 a year, you start to lose people making $100,000 or less a year. We can look to places like Boulder, Santa Barbara, any community that’s analogous to ours that’s ever tried to do a moratorium; it’s a complete disaster.”
There’s a constant debate happening in Bozeman regarding the city’s rapid growth, housing affordability and an influx of wealthy out-of-staters. Are you familiar with this conversation? How would your work as mayor change the discussion?
“I’m definitely familiar with that conversation. I think it goes back to that first question. We’re not going to stop people from coming to Bozeman. Bozeman is a desirable place. People want to live here; I want to live here; you want to live here, and for lots of really great reasons. I think as mayor, I would continue to work on how we mitigate those impacts of growth.”
“The housing issue is huge and important. Developers have taken Bozeman hostage, and if we’re going to take it back … we need to send a very loud message to developers that ‘you don’t control our town anymore,’ and the way to do that is to put a moratorium on approving new luxury developments. All of a sudden, you’re going to have the developers’ attention, because they don’t get to push through a bunch of development that nobody wants anymore. Also, they’re going to say ‘OK, how do we work with you to get some affordable housing pushed through? How do we work with you to make sure the city is actually sustainable?’ And right now that’s not happening. The commissioners are scared of being sued if they don’t approve these developments. We need to change that complete power dynamic.”
“There are changes that we can make, and I think it’s about priority. What I’ve seen in the time that I’ve been in this community, and especially during the time I’ve watched the commission, [is its] priority are folks who are going to move in and spend a lot of money at our local businesses, people who are going to buy large houses or build large houses that generate a lot of property tax revenue, and leave out the working people who’ve been here, the working people who live here, the working people who actually want to make this community run, who pour the beers that make those wealthy people feel comfortable. So, shifting priority to ‘how do we work with locals?’”
What’s the current energy or momentum behind your campaign and how do you feel voters are responding to you?
“The people I motivate are the people who don’t really want to think about government, but know it’s working for them. They don’t spend every day thinking about local city government, but they know that it’s working because they turn on their water, and water comes out, and the streets are plowed. I think those are the people I motivate because they know that I have worked hard and get the work done.”
“It’s incredible. I got to go to the MSU campus last week, and I shook 500 hands, [and handed out] 500 pamphlets. People already know who I am: ‘Oh yeah, you’re the environmental attorney who got arrested for busting the Yellowstone Club for polluting,’ so there’s already a certain level of trust and familiarity with Bozeman residents about who I am and what I’m doing, and when they hear I want to stop building vacation houses for out-of-staters … everybody loves that, so there’s been a ton of support for the campaign.”
“This weekend, if not today, we’ll have knocked [on] our 10,000th door. Nobody else is knocking on doors. We’re just running, quite literally, the biggest grassroots campaign in Bozeman’s history … I have the endorsements of two former mayors. I have endorsements from local, elected representatives, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, Gallatin Valley Sunrise, Bozeman Tenants United. At the same time, over 100 unique volunteers. We sent out 7,000 handwritten postcards this week. We’re running a huge campaign that’s centered on the community and that’s built by the community.”
Bozeman’s mayoral candidates have participated in multiple public forums, including last week’s online debate hosted by the Gallatin County Democrats, which focused on women’s and girl’s human rights and related topics.
For those who want to hear from the candidates in person, the final public forum is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 30, and will be hosted by the Montana League of Women Voters at the Bozeman Public Library at 6:30 p.m.
Voters may cast their ballots by mail or drop them off at the Gallatin County Elections Office, 311 W. Main St., room 210, in Bozeman. Ballots will be accepted until 8 p.m., on Nov. 7.
Editor’s note: Candidate John Meyer is married to MTFP reporter Amanda Eggert, who did not take part in the reporting or editing of this article.
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