by William Skink
Next year Mayor Engen will have to make his case for why voters should give him a 5th term.
In between well-honed, self-deprecating fat jokes, Engen will make the case for why his sardine-can master plan vision for Missoula, developed with paid assistance from Florida consultants, is the right vision to pursue amidst economic contraction and the implosion of the tourist-based model for economic development.
For anyone considering challenging Engen and the loose groupings of sycophants who will rally to protect their positions at his spigot, it’s instructive to look at the smoldering remains of Lisa Triepke’s ill-advised challenge to Herr Engen’s rule.
In September of 2017 I wrote about how the mud was starting to fly in the mayoral race.
The following month I wrote about new lows in the race after the Missoulian printed a hit piece on Lisa Triepke’s use of food assistance during her divorce. In that post I wrote the following in response to the Missoulian article and Engen’s nasty attacks on Triepke:
I find this article troubling on a number of fronts. I get the deliciousness of this gotchya depiction of a conservative candidate on the dole trying to unseat an alleged “progressive” Mayor, but public shaming a woman going through a divorce for the faults of the public benefits system is a tad disgusting. Also, the Missoulian is actually helping to perpetuate the false impression that social supports like SNAP are not accountable to changes in a recipient’s economic status. Those of us who work in social services know that is not the case.
Another thing that bothers me about this story digging into personal details of Triepke’s divorce is the Missoulian’s lack of coverage of our current Mayor’s personal struggles. Not until the Mayor himself chose to use those struggles (after an intervention) to launch his reelection campaign did the Missoulian cover what many already knew—that John Engen is an alcoholic.
I think Engen’s alcoholism should be a part of this electoral conversation, especially now with the Missoulian doing this hit piece on Triepke. So, did Engen show up to work while drunk? Drive while drunk? Encourage the expansion of the convention center project while drunk? And what about Engen’s divorce? Or rumors of a fight on a plane? Or any number of other potential problems with an alcoholic in the position of power Engen has enjoyed for 3 terms?
Missoula’s progressive clique has enabled our Mayor for a long time. If I showed up to work under the influence of alcohol I would no longer have a job. That would be most people’s experience with an employer. I guess Engen is different and feels entitled to continue implementing his vision for Missoula–a vision of endless growth despite multiple systemic problems with health, housing, higher education and the criminal justice system.
The problem with referencing anything pre-pandemic is that it is pre-pandemic. Impossible to disprove, unrealized scenarios will be lamented by Engen as he claims all his well-laid plans would have come to perfect fruition if it wasn’t for the great COVID scapegoat.
Now, he will say, all he needs is another term so that his vision can be realized.
How many will believe this crap? How many even remember the last mayoral election?
Young people who don’t know any better will vote for Engen, and the transplants who love open spaces and live on passive income will vote for Engen. Many government employees will vote for Engen, as will many in the development community.
How many people with memories of a fading Missoula won’t vote for Engen because they are no longer here, having been priced out of the sky-rocketing housing market?
I got a comment on Facebook the other day from a former homeless outreach volunteer who did great work establishing a transitional housing pilot program for citizens returning from incarceration. He lives in Oregon now. And nearly all the people I went to college with left Missoula long ago because they couldn’t make a living in the service sector trap Missoula’s economy became after abandoning resource extraction jobs.
If Engen wins another term he’ll have been mayor for 20 years by the end of it. Is that what voters in this town really want? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.