Idaho fire, police unions back former police chief in mayoral election
Boise unions skipped candidate forums after members showed clear support for former police chief Mike Masterson
By Ian Max Stevenson
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho — Rank-and-file police officers and firefighters in Boise have thrown their support to Mike Masterson, Mayor Lauren McLean’s most prominent challenger in the November election.
Masterson, a former Boise police chief, has the backing of public safety unions, both of which supported former mayor David Bieter in the 2019 election. Bieter lost to McLean in a December runoff.
A crowd of more than 50 firefighters donning red t-shirts saying “Firefighters for Masterson” met at the Boise Firefighters Local 149 union hall at 10 S. Orchard St. on Tuesday.
They were joined by leaders of the Boise police union — Local 486 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers — and the Fraternal Order of Police, a membership organization that supports police.
“It is a great honor to earn their trust, and it’s a trust that I have to reciprocate,” Masterson said at the campaign event. “I assure you that I will continue to work on public safety issues.”
Members of all three organizations have a history with Masterson, who served as chief from 2005 until 2015.
Tony Ostrander, the president of the Treasure Valley Fraternal Order of Police, said at the event that Masterson hired him to work for the Police Department in 2008.
“I found him to be an honest man and one of complete integrity,” Ostrander said. “I genuinely believe he will restore a sense of pride, ethical decision-making and unquestionable integrity to the city of Boise mayor’s office,” he said.
The union represents about 300 officers, corporals and sergeants. The union regularly negotiates with city leaders over pay and working conditions.
The Fraternal Order of Police provides legal services to members and has a political action committee. Sworn officers from around the Treasure Valley can join, though Canyon County has its own chapter. Ostrander told the Idaho Statesman membership includes personnel from the Ada County Sheriff’s Office and other local agencies.
McLean has had a tense relationship with law enforcement during her tenure. Some officers took umbrage at a statement she made after revelations that a retired captain, Matt Bryngelson, had made white supremacist statements online. McLean started an investigation into whether the problem was “pervasive” in the department.
“I expect, and this community deserves, your full cooperation, honesty, and integrity to the oaths you’ve sworn in this investigation,” McLean said in a November 2022 statement speaking directly to members of the department. “This is no time to consider circling the wagons, and I will not tolerate anyone who tries to impede this investigation in any way.”
“She went out there and threw us all in front of the bus,” Kip Paporello, the police union’s secretary, told the Statesman on Tuesday.
He also pointed to a recent police shooting in the North End. A suspect died after a shootout with police in the residential neighborhood.
“She hasn’t said a word” about the shooting, Paporello said. “When it’s politically convenient she’ll say something about it, but when it’s not, she’s quiet.”
Paporello said union members voted to endorse Masterson at a recent meeting.
Jason Shuey, president of the firefighter’s union with close to 300 members, told the Statesman that the union conducted a survey of its members, and that 90% of them said they wanted to support Masterson.
While the union generally hosts candidate forums before issuing endorsements, he said it did not this year, because of the clear preference among members for Masterson.
Boise agreed to new labor contracts with the police and firefighter unions this year, which resulted in large raises for both sets of city employees. The firefighters’ contract afforded 16% wage increases for members between last October and this fall. The police contract increased wages by 13% over the same period.
For firefighters, the wage increases push base-level salaries to around $71,300 per year.
Shuey, who said he has been a lead negotiator for the union on four firefighters’ contracts, said he thought the new pay structure is fair, but that the negotiations resulted in the union losing a provision called “binding fact-finding,” which he said helps resolve disagreements during the negotiations themselves.
“It was the most unreasonable and distrusting negotiation I’ve ever been a part of,” Shuey said.
In a statement emailed by a spokesperson, McLean told the Statesman that she is thankful for the service of first responders.
“I want to be clear that, though I did not expect to have the support of the unions in this race, it has no impact on how we treat and take care of the first responders who bravely serve the citizens of Boise 365 days a year,” she said. “I am proud to be making record investments in public safety, including a 16% raise over the next two years for the men and women of Boise Fire.”
McLean has received endorsements from prominent city leaders like former City Council Presidents Holli Woodings and Elaine Clegg. She has also been endorsed by Conservation Voters of Idaho and Emily’s List, a national group that endorses women candidates who support abortion rights.
City elections in Idaho are nonpartisan, but party politics sometimes plays a prominent role anyway. McLean is a Democrat. Masterson was registered as an independent voter while serving as police chief, he told the Statesman. After he retired, he registered as a Republican to vote in the state party’s closed primaries, he said. In 2023 he switched back to independent, “which reflects my views on a variety of issues,” he said in a text message.
The Nov. 7 election is for a four-year term. The mayor’s job pays $150,961 per year.