Aurora’s mayoral race rises to national concern with Giffords tabbing Omar Montgomery in Aurora

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Gabby Giffords waves to those in attendance during a gun safety town hall in Aurora. Giffords hosted the town hall to open the discussion for gun safety with activists, survivors, local leaders and US Congressmen, Aug. 26 in Aurora, CO.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Aurora’s mayoral race has attracted the national political spotlight with an endorsement from iconic gun control advocate and former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot during a constituent gathering in 2011.

Giffords is slated to come to Aurora Saturday to endorse Aurora mayoral candidate Omar Montgomery at his campaign headquarters in Aurora.

Montgomery said he remembers the moment in 2011 he heard that Giffords was shot — returning home after teaching a class in Denver — and then following her recovery in the news. The former lawmaker’s journey to fighting for stricter gun laws impacted Montgomery’s own political aspirations. 

Omar Montgomery. Courtesy photo

This weekend Montgomery’s mayoral campaign is getting a formal nod from Giffords and her advocacy group that notably focuses on contentious congressional races and operates in the realm of national politics.

Her advocacy group, called “Giffords,” said they believe Montgomery, a Denver professor and local NAACP president, is the candidate best suited to tackle gun violence and implement smart gun policies on a local level.

“This is the most immediate form of government that is going to be responding to constituents,” said Giffords managing director Robin Lloyd. “It is really important that we have leaders working at every level, and we hope to have that with Omar Montgomery in office.”

Montgomery told the Sentinel he believes that despite gun violence being a major national political issue, he thinks Aurora can serve as a model on how cities can move forward on crafting and enforcing related policies. 

The candidate, who said he grew up in seedy Los Angeles neighborhoods where gun violence was evident almost every night, sees the local approach as two-pronged: getting guns out of hands they don’t belong, especially from young people, and expanding mental health resources for those who have experienced gun violence trauma.

“If we can keep the guns stored safety, get the illegal guns off the street, then, at the municipal level, we’re addressing half the battle,” Montgomery said, explaining that he’d like to work with local school districts to develop more after-school programs to curb activity that could lead to gun violence.

Montgomery did not detail existing or new city laws that would be the focus of a local gun-control policy.

On the public safety front, Montgomery said he’d like to address Aurora’s loss of police officers and firefighters to Denver first, then move on to how to better prepare those agencies to keep Aurora safe.

Lloyd said a mayor’s work with public safety and police departments is crucial to addressing gun violence.

Giffords was last in Aurora two weeks ago for a town hall, which focused on “running toward and not away” from challenges in passing stricter gun legislation. 

“Fight, fight, fight,” Giffords, who only spoke briefly at the event, told a gathering of about 150 people. “Be bold. Be courageous. The nation is counting on you.”

Giffords and her group have become a regular around Aurora. In 2018, the group launched a $1.5 million attack ad campaign against former Congressman Mike Coffman, who is now a candidate for mayor, and endorsed Congressman Jason Crow, saying he “stood tall and boldly declared that the gun lobby is no longer welcome here, and their influence over our politicians is a thing of the past.”

“One thing we focus on is gun violence and what our elected officials can do, and when we were looking at this mayoral race we saw the contrast between the candidates,” Lloyd said. “It’s inspiring to hear (Montgomery) talk on this issue and the stark difference to Mike Coffman, who was in the pocket of the NRA and did nothing to address gun violence.”

Coffman, who as a Congressman received money and endorsements from the NRA, introduced legislation in his last term that would have enticed states to enact “red flag” laws.  

The now-mayoral candidate said in statement that national politics has no place in the mayoral race.

“The last thing we need is national politics infecting our mayor’s race. Aurora deserves better. I am focused on working with Aurora leaders to make a difference on behalf of everyone who lives in our city and that’s why my number one priority is working with law enforcement to reduce crime and protect our schools and neighborhoods,” he said. “That’s why both the Aurora and Arapahoe County chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed my candidacy.”

While Giffords has aimed much of its resources at federal candidates — like Crow in 2018 — the advocacy group hasn’t shied away from more local races. In 2017, Giffords endorsed mayoral candidates in Seattle, Boston and Albuquerque, citing Washington’s gridlock as a reason why local candidates are a viable option for getting gun-related policies enacted.

Joining those municipal candidates speaks to Aurora’s ability to be a leader, Montgomery said, “It means that there are people at the congressional level who believe in what we’re doing in Aurora. Even outside the state of Colorado people know that we have a lot to offer in the city of Aurora.”

Giffords will appear with State Sen. Rhonda Fields and Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, to endorse Montgomery at noon on Saturday.