SINE DIE: Veteran Aurora lawmaker and Mayor Bob LeGare leaves a legacy of practicality

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AURORA | Sometime before former Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan unknowingly left his office for a final time he wrote a list of priorities on a white board. Bob LeGare, who was appointed to fill the seat after Hogan died in May 2018, used the list as a sort of guide on how to fill out the remaining year-and-a-half term.

“I actually just erased it this morning,” LeGare said of the list, a week away from stepping off the dais for the final time. He sat behind a large conference table in his office near some windows that overlook the Aurora mall, the R Line and the Rocky Mountains, the same view Hogan had since being elected in 2011. The same view newly-elected Mayor Mike Coffman now has.

LeGare said he would erase the list, one-by-one, as they were tackled. They were things like a cultural center — which didn’t get done — and the Korean War Memorial on the Fitzsimons campus. “That’s moving along nicely,” LeGare said.

LeGare was unanimously chosen by his peers to fill the vacancy after Hogan died. During the interview he said he would not seek to hold on to the seat at the end of the term. Instead, he wanted to serve as an interim until the city could elect a new mayor. He said he felt like it was a civic obligation.

While he told his colleagues during his interview for the seat he hadn’t thought about being mayor in recent years, LeGare has been a steady conservative voice on the city council for nearly 17 years over two stints. He was a fervent voice for increasing spending on roads and transportation and reducing regulation of businesses. LeGare was a strong proponent of giving relatively wide berth to the city’s nascent marijuana industry. He was awarded this week for his work to approve marijuana taxes so that money could be used for homelessness.

In all his years as a city councilman, the only serious controversy he’s endured came from police and firefighter union backlash for his stance on slowing the expansion of police and fire ranks.

In what was one of the most profound and personal campaigns city unions carried out during an election, the unions campaigned heavily against LeGare in 2015. He won the re-election to his at-large seat, however, by a razor-thin lead.

He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2003 and a seat on the Arapahoe County Commission in 2016.

In the fifth-floor corner office LeGare added his own things to Hogan’s whiteboard list, too. Most notably, affordable housing, a topic the former commercial real estate broker didn’t think would become an advocate for.

In March he struck a deal with the owner of the closing Denver Meadow Mobile Home Park in north Aurora. On a snowy and blizzardous I-70, he sat for 7.5 hours, only trekking to city hall to finish the paperwork.

The finalized contract allowed $300,000 to the remaining residents of the mobile home park and ensured the plot of land would get a sure shot at rezoning.

Even with a short stint as mayor, LeGare said he was able to put his own stamp on the office. Part of that was with the Denver Meadows deal, the other part was being “a very sane and rational leader of the city,” he said. “When I came into this office, I knew that I had a very limited amount of time, a year-and-a-half is like a blip on the radar screen for mayor.”

On the dais, LeGare’s signature line, after every public comment, was a simple “thank you for your comments.” Even when speakers and activists would seeth and launch insults at LeGare. At his second to last meeting, before protestors forced councilmembers to move rooms, one activist called LeGare “a f**kboy” and presented a cake that said “bye mayor f-boy.”

“Thank you, I do want to correct one more thing,” LeGare told him. “I do have one additional meeting that is coming up, actually two where I’ll have the pleasure of hearing from you. Thank you.”

City council meetings have become sometimes disorderly, especially with protesters calling for justice for Elijah McClain, a young black man who died after an encounter with Aurora police this summer, and demanding city lawmakers do something to shut down the privately-owned immigration detention center in Aurora. LeGare said he didn’t have a plan on how to handle rowdy meetings.

“In all my years on the city council, I’ve not seen anything that radical happen except this past year. And so no, I didn’t have any strategy for it,” LeGare said, adding that he was often frustrated with some issues being brought to the council, like the ICE detention center, because they are federal issues.

“It just takes away from what we’re trying to do in running a city, and people can argue, (but) in my opinion, it’s a vocal minority. You could quote me on that. I mean, I don’t care if 50 people show up. We’re sitting at (a population of) 380,000, and I hear from other people that are out there, saying, ‘What in the hell is happening in this city?’ And, ‘Who are these people getting up and speaking at public invited to be heard?”

LeGare also faced a politically divided council. He said with more time he would have liked to have focused more on bringing unity to the body, but he’s not sure how.

“I didn’t see anything that I could do in 18 months that I can make a difference,” he said. “And so, I mean, I think I had a good relationship with most council members. I won’t say all because there’s some that I never got through to.”

That should be job number one for Coffman, he said.

Between the divide and the disruptive meetings, LeGare speculates that maybe he might have considered stepping down from his at-large seat if he hadn’t been appointed to mayor.

“Because of the politics,” he said.

LeGare left the Republican Party two years ago.

“A lot of people think is because of Trump. It is not. I actually think that while I dislike Trump’s public persona with his, you know, infamous tweeting and, you know, no filter between brain and mouth, I actually think that some of the things Trump is doing nationally are positive for the country. And I think that this stuff he’s doing at the border, I think it’s a strategy to get Congress to pay attention to the problem. Congress has looked the other way on illegal immigration for 45 years.”

LeGare, who said he’d like to see an amnesty deal for much of the country’s immigrant population, said he dropped his affiliation because of a “broken party,” which he describes as dysfunctional. Two years ago, state Republicans killed a transportation ballot question because they didn’t think it was pure enough. It didn’t set well with the council member who made transportation and road maintenance his main issue.

Now, without a weekly city council meeting, LeGare said he plans to actually retire. He plans to finish a scuba certification. He’s never dived in his life. His wife, whom he met two-and-a-half years ago, has done more than 300 dives.

“We were just engaged when Steve Hogan announced that he had cancer and he may not survive. So I asked her if she had any reservations about me putting my name in for mayor, and putting a year-and-a-half hold on our plans, retirement plans, and she said, ‘You absolutely need to put your name in because you’re the right person for the job’… So basically, we’re just going to continue what was going to be my retirement at the end of this term. It’s just that the last 18 months was as mayor instead of an at-large council member.”

LeGare will still be around city government in some capacities, though. On Monday, as a citizen, he was appointed to the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District Board.