You just have to wonder whose side Mayor Mike Coffman is on — clearly it’s not his own.
That’s the logical conclusion after watching Aurora’s state-rep-turned-state-senator-turned-state-treasurer-turned secretary-of-state-turned-congressman-turned-mayor-turned-wannabe-mayor-king politically strangle himself in front of all of Colorado.
While most of Aurora shrugs indifferently about whether we should take a sledgehammer to the city’s council-manager form of government, it clearly has kept Coffman staying up nights trying to figure out a way to change it.
No doubt, Coffman is hardly alone in his dismay that Aurora seems high-centered on a lot of issues. The Aurora political scene has not been unlike the congressional hyper-partisan quicksand swallowing up all kinds of reforms and programs the city desperately needs.
Rather than look at ways to build bridges among scowling city council factions, it would appear that Coffman sees solution in creating the position of mayor king, and coronating himself as the first royal.
All of this would have been just tacky if he’d done it on the up and up. He could have cooked up this “strong mayor” scheme, made it clear he fancied himself the kind of guy who could run a big city, and try to sell it first to his acolytes, then to the city council and, ultimately, to voters.
Instead, Coffman secretly cooked up a 45-page rewrite of the city’s charter, changing the role of mayor to something a little like what they have in Denver and Colorado Springs and more like they have in China as Communist Party secretary general.
It’s exactly the kind of thing voters in Pueblo, stuck with their own mayor-king nightmare, are trying to undo right now.
It’s not that Aurora’s government structure doesn’t need a serious review and possibly a makeover. For certain, the city should quit electing candidates in three-way races or more who don’t even garner a majority of voters. Runoff elections have long been a solid solution that Aurora should adopt.
And maybe it’s time for residents to consider changing the role of the mayor, who essentially is the chief ribbon cutter and meeting runner.
But a dramatic change in government is something momentous. It’s something to be proposed, scrutinized, refined and debated — in public, by the public.
Instead, Coffman concocted a mayor-king scheme, and he peddled it to the usual rich Colorado Springs Republican suspects in secret. Then he talked some, err, friends, into signing an originating petition that he paid other Republicans from outside of Aurora to write up, and let it all happen.
Because neither the public nor the staff here at the Sentinel are stupid, it quickly became clear that it was indeed Coffman who contrived all this, and then he refused to admit it — repeatedly.
Rather than draw scrutiny to a profound and compelling issue, he essentially behaved, in every way, the perfect example of why it’s a really bad idea to invest too much power in any one person.
Coffman had scuttled away from Sentinel reporter Max Levy on one occasion while Levy chased after him, rolling recorder in hand, for comment after an investigation here outed Coffman as the culprit.
After being clobbered time and again with stories in the Sentinel, a press conference held by just about every living Aurora-area politician who hates the lying and the scheming behind all this — and more than anything, the very idea if it — Coffman finally agreed to go on camera with 9News reporter Marshall Zelinger.
The Coffman-Zellinger interview will go down in Colorado journalism history as one of the most cringe-evoking pieces of video ever to travel the airwaves.
Zellinger, smiling, confronts a blinking, swaying and stammering Coffman for 15 agonizing minutes, about why he hid his involvement for so long.
Coffman’s word salad was alarming, not in its stealth and swagger, but because it was so embarrassingly meager.
“Well, I just think that, it’s, ummm, you know, in hind-sight, who knows, it’s not about transparency, it’s about, to me it wasn’t an issue until it made the ballot.”
Pro-tip: Get your story straight before you talk to a reporter, or at least have a story.
Few things are as important right now in a government and social media world, seemingly overrun with liars, cheaters and peddlers of misinformation and disinformation, than are transparency, accountability and forthright honesty.
But that was just the first minute into the interview. It got much worse.
“So that was the decision I made at the time.”
Coffman made clear he didn’t accidentally work to hide his involvement in a scheme that serves only him, not the city, not his elected peers and not the needs of the community, just his whim. He wasn’t coerced, cajoled or tricked into scheming and hiding, he did it on purpose, got caught and had to admit it to a TV reporter.
“I made a decision it wasn’t an issue until it made the ballot and that was a decision that I made,” he said.
Why, yes he did.
And even weeks ago, outed by the Sentinel and 9News as the culprit behind a petition drive that was powered by disinformation — and now the subject of a lawsuit and protests over how voters were misled about the intent and effect — he “made a decision” to keep it a secret.
Coffman didn’t want to tell anyone he dumped ten grand of his own money into this debacle, or that he talked the investors into a Colorado Springs dark-money PAC to spend more than $140,000 so far to try and force his plan onto the ballot.
The interview just gets worse for Coffman.
Zellinger asks him what he has to say about so many people complaining they were misled into signing the petition because it was being sold as having to do with term limits. The canvassers were caught deploying a patently immoral and possibly illegal bait-and-switch tactic to get people to sign.
He told Zellinger that “nothing precludes” the responsibility of voters to read all of the fine print outside the grocery store before signing on the dotted line.
In effect, Coffman says those who feel they were suckered into signing on the false pretense of the whole term-limits thing have no one to blame but themselves for being suckers.
At this point, Coffman is only two minutes into the 15-minute interview that could be a paid commercial for illustrating why a free and robust press is so important in preserving democracy and speaking truth to power.
To underscore that Coffman is his own worst enemy here, he doubled down later in the interview telling viewers that they shouldn’t go signing crap like his petitions for this proposal without analyzing every word. It’s a buyer beware of Coffman world out here in Coffman’s Aurora.
If the entire debacle wasn’t so scandalous and dangerous in its scope and daring, it would just be OMG awkward.
This is, however, not Coffman’s first rodeo, having run for and held more offices in his career than most people have jobs during their entire lives.
It’s stunning that Coffman didn’t see how something as compelling as the role of Aurora’s mayor could be turned into a career-killing scandal that questions his ability to be honest, forthright and even mostly sensible — in an election year.
A clever politician would immediately plead guilty and throw himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion.
But nothing about this entire morass smacks of anything close to clever.