AURORA | After more than a week of slow ballot counting and days of tracking down problem ballots, former GOP Congressman Mike Coffman has won Aurora’s most expensive and competitive mayor’s race by a nose.
Ballot counting has now stopped in the five-way race and gives Coffman a 215-vote lead over NAACP chief Omar Montgomery.
Coffman declared himself the winner Thursday afternoon, estimating that too few ballots remained to allow any opponent to pull ahead. He wins the race with less than 36% of the vote. Aurora does not call for run-off elections and awards the race to the winner with a plurality.
“The City of Aurora has been my hometown for the past 55 years, and I’m honored to receive a vote of confidence, by one of the most diverse cities in American, to be their next mayor, and to shape its future,” Coffman said in a statement.
Montgomery’s campaign had worked for days to track down ballots with missing signatures or other “cure” problems, but came up short in the end.
Montgomery was not immediately available for comment.
Coffman said he looked forward to working with Montgomery and all members of city council.
He said the long-awaited election results were part of an election filled with errors.
“Quite frankly, in all my years of politics, I don’t know of an election with as many mistakes at as many different levels as this election,” Coffman said. “I think there really needs to be a deep dive after the fact into this election.”
Voters had been tasked with electing a new Aurora mayor and deciding between a bevy of city council candidates that represent different political ideologies that could have a major impact on future city business.
The new city council is slated to be sworn in Dec. 2.
Reporters asked how Coffman would handle a recent controversy where groups of protesters have interrupted city council meetings, at more than one point forcing recesses and moving the meeting to a closed room.
“With a much larger gavel,” Coffman said to laughs. As to plans by the current city council to continue to move and suspend public comment if the protests continue, Coffman said “we will not be displacing the meeting.”
He said he anticipates “tremendous challenges and tremendous opportunities” and he believes he will have more latitude to effect change than he did during his years in Washington DC.
Coffman, who lost his Aurora congressional seat in 2018 to Democrat Jason Crow, said polarization has stymied Congress.
“This is non-partisan,” Coffman said. “I plan on governing that way, and with a focus on getting things done.”
The five candidates vying for mayor were: former city councilman Ryan Frazier, former Coffman, Montgomery, Ward III councilwoman Marsha Berzins and former Ward II councilwoman Renie Peterson.
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The race had been marked by record donations, major spending and high-profile endorsements. Mayoral and city council candidates alike, have drawn an unprecedented amount of national interest, from endorsements pro-gun control advocates to the ACLU’s educational effort that aimed to reach 25,000 voters.
“This is not just any election,” said ACLU Colorado spokeswoman Deanna Hirsch, who described the stakes in Aurora as higher than ever, especially regarding the future of the privately-owned immigration detention center and protecting the role of public defenders in court.
Local issues like transportation, affordable housing and public safety were top priority for many candidates, despite the flurry of national issues and endorsements.
Groups such as Giffords, the Brady Campaign, NARAL and the Sierra Club all made endorsements in the race alongside national and local leaders, including former attorney general Eric Holder. Voters received messages from Congressmen Jason Crow, a Democrat, and Ken Buck, a Republican, showing the national importance of the race.
The race for mayor was the most expensive in city history, breaking the $1 million fundraising mark nearly a month before Election Day. Other dark money groups contributed significantly to city council races.
Aurora council moves from red to purple to blue
In closely contested wards 4 and 5, upstart, liberal challengers appear to have won their seats. Ward 4 contender Juan Marcano beat incumbent Charlie Richardson by 233 votes. In Ward 5, challenger Alison Coombs took that seat by 274 votes, besting incumbent Bob Roth. Both counts are also outside the margin of automatic recount.
The two seats flip from conservative to progressive, allowing city liberal lawmakers to create a majority, six-vote voting block, the first time in memory Aurora Democrats or liberals wielded power.
“I think our message really resonated with Aurorans” Marcano said Thursday evening. “I’m looking forward to serving the people of Ward 4.”
He said Richardson had reached out to him several days ago to congratulate him on the victory.
Coffman is a Republican and often considered a moderate on civic issues, but the Aurora mayor votes only to break ties.
The liberal candidates are Democrats, although the seats are officially non-partisan.
Representatives for the liberal candidates said they expected close races would end in their favor because of a last-minute push to get out the vote.
“I feel confident that the voters have made their voices heard, ” Coombs. “That was a very close race.”
She added that she is excited to serve Aurora residents and those of Ward V.
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The election results come more than a week after Election Day. Arapahoe County election officials say a flood of late ballots slowed the counting process down.
In the at-large contest, councilwoman Angela Lawson and challenger Curtis Gardner led the race for the two posts up for grabs.
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In Ward 6, incumbent Francoise Bergan is comfortably ahead of Bryan Lindstrom.
A proposal to build a new Arapahoe County Jail emphatically failed with almost 70 percent of the vote opposing measure 1A.
Aurora voters appeared to mirror state voters, who soundly defeated Proposition CC and were narrowly supporting Proposition DD, according to preliminary returns. Proposition CC asked to keep excess state tax revenue. Prop DD proposes a tax on legal sports betting.
Two of three seats up for election on the Aurora Public Schools board were clearly decided for APS union-backed candidates Vicki Reinhard and Stephanie Mason. A third seat has Nichelle Ortiz winning by about 100 votes.
In Cherry Creek schools, Angela Garland handily won the race.