Ballots were mailed Wednesday for the Nov. 2 municipal election, and it’s time to start thinking about who is best qualified to lead our fair city.
We think it’s an easy choice. John Engen is by far the best-qualified candidate, and deserves reelection.
He has smartly tackled the housing shortage, the biggest issue facing Missoula. Almost 1,000 units of affordable housing are in the works for construction over the next several years.
He has also aggressively addressed homelessness and other big issues, such as the Mountain Water deal to transfer the city’s water supply into public ownership.
Some have accused him of overreach, but we prefer a mayor who isn’t afraid to tackle tough local problems. His recent decision to acquire the Bridge Apartments, for example, likely saved low-income residents with mental health issues from being tossed onto the street in the worst housing market in memory.
His opponent, Jacob Elder, declined an invitation to meet with the editorial board, saying he isn’t seeking the Missoulian’s endorsement.
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That’s his choice. However, his decision deprives this newspaper’s readers of the chance to hear his views on important issues facing the city — issues that Engen was more than happy to discuss.
It also follows a pattern of Elder’s refusal to engage with anyone who might ask a tough question. He routinely blocks people on social media who ask him questions.
“I’m not in the business of allowing people to campaign for the mayor on my platform,” he said in a mayoral debate earlier this year.
We expect anyone who wants to lead this city to be ready and willing to talk to people with all points of view, not just those who agree with him.
We don’t know who Elder really is, or what he stands for. He entered the mayoral race as a Democrat, moved on to alienate some local Republicans over campaign signs and now says he’s running as an independent.
He has flip-flopped on both Black Lives Matter and homelessness, now taking harder stances on both issues than he originally espoused. On homelessness, he wrote in July that “I would happily fund transportation for transients to relocate to California! California has ample resources to help these folks, Missoulians don’t!”
That’s a reprehensible and callous answer to a serious problem. While no doubt many local residents might agree with him, we believe that sentiment is out of touch with the majority of Missoula’s progressive voters.
Finally, there’s the issue of the law school at the University of Montana, where Elder is a student. He was the subject of a Title IX sexual assault investigation, in which the university decided there was not enough evidence to determine he was responsible. The Daily Montanan reported that multiple women have accused him of sexual assault.
We thank Elder for his service as a former Marine, but that’s about his only positive attribute that we can think of.
We do know who Engen is, and what he stands for. He has demonstrated the ability to collaborate and get things done. His passion for the city is palpable.
We understand that some voters would like a change after 16 years, but Elder is not a viable option. We need a leader — not an unpredictable and volatile lightning rod — in the mayor’s seat.
Please vote for John Engen for mayor when you mail in your ballot.
City council and judges
The Missoulian is not endorsing city council or municipal court judge candidates in this election.
We have, however, collected our election coverage online if you need help researching candidates.
City council: go.missoulian.com/citycouncil
This editorial represents the views of the Missoulian’s editorial board — Publisher Jim Strauss and Executive Editor Jim Van Nostrand.