Dan Popkey did such a good job of reporting on the passing of former Boise Mayor Dick Eardley that I’d all but decided not to write anything. What could be added?
Still … it wouldn’t feel right to let Dick go without a word.
I was The Statesman’s local government reporter when he was a city councilman and later mayor. Dick was a force in city government at a critical time in Boise’s history, when the city was hoping to become an example for other cities of how to handle growth. A former newsman, he had no ties to the development lobby and was an early and strong advocate of a council of governments created to hire professional planners and implement their recommendations.
That didn’t happen. The vested interests were so powerful that they successfully ran their own slate of candidates, disbanded the council and sent the planners packing. No one was more dismayed than Mayor Eardley. He was disappointed and angry and said so. He consistently stood up to those who valued their bank accounts more than public interest. No one admired him more for that than I did.
We didn’t always hit it off. In fact, we repeatedly butted heads. One of my stories back then called a plan that would have limited development to specific boundaries “inherently controversial.” It was. In fact, it was the main reason the planners were driven out of town. Eardley blamed me for the controversy. Speaking to a service club while running for election, he held a rolled-up copy of the paper with my story in it, pointed it at me and identified me to the club’s members as public enemy number one. We didn’t speak for a while after that.
He was the leading proponent of the city’s long effort to build its biggest shopping mall downtown. When a department store chain the city had been courting announced that it wasn’t interested, I quoted the mayor’s remark that the company had “led us down the primrose lane.” It became a butt of cynical jokes, and once again we didn’t speak for a while.
History and Boise Towne Square proved Eardley and the rest of the city’s then leaders dead wrong about the downtown mall. It wasn’t meant to happen, didn’t happen, and Boise today would be a lesser place if it had happened. His successor got credit for what became the downtown success story and went on to become a U.S. senator and Cabinet member. Meanwhile, the mayor who had worked longer and harder for Boise was forced to settle for what had to have been a demeaning role for him, working a desk job for a state department until he could retire.
In his retirement years, we developed an uneasy friendship, or at least a truce. He was polite and helpful whenever I called to interview him about something that had happened in the old days. And he happily volunteered for a number of panel groups at the Statesman, where he impressed everyone with his knowledge, intelligence and humor.
He could be irascible and he could hold a grudge. But he had a good heart, no one ever worked harder for the city of Boise, and there was never a doubt that he had the its best interests at heart.
I’ll say this for Dick Eardley. Unlike many politicians, he didn’t change his tune or his vote based on polls or how the political winds were blowing. He was a straight shooter. For better or worse, you knew exactly what he thought and where you stood with him. I’ll miss him.