Mike Coffman’s return to political office took a little over a week to complete.
He had to wait nine days after Election Day this year before formally declaring he was elected Mayor of Aurora. The race ended up playing out more like a comedy than a drama.
After unsuccessfully running for reelection in Congress last year, Coffman had turned his sights to his hometown. Against Omar Montgomery, a university lecturer and local NAACP President, Coffman built a lead on election night that slowly whittled down as more ballots were counted. On top of that, things were weird: ballots with errors delivered to Adams County, USPS delivering ballots on Election Day, and the Arapahoe County Clerk’s odd comments to a local TV station about assuring proper ballot handling.
Coffman declared a victory on Nov. 14. He ended up topping a six-candidate field including current and former council members and community activists. He will be sworn-in on Monday.
“On Election Day, I didn’t think I could win,” Coffman said recently. “You had essentially three candidates fighting over the same set of voters and then one candidate out there on his own, Omar Montgomery, and with the left, the democratic party just totally aligned with him, supporting him.”
The task before Coffman is tall. He wants to dismantle Aurora’s identity as a bedroom community and usher in a place where jobs and residents stay in Aurora and people have places to go after work. He envisions creating a tech-friendly hub for this massive city of 380,000-plus people.
In other words, he wants a city that’s more reflective of its current title as the 54th largest city in America.
“It’s just too big to be a bedroom community,” Coffman said.
He thinks changing that will take — in small measures — looking west toward Denver.
“I think Aurora can have a great relationship with Denver. I look forward to working with the mayor, Mayor (Michael) Hancock,” Coffman said.
Coffman doesn’t want certain ideas or policies to end at Yosemite Street.
To get there, he will start with the basics, meeting and sitting down with everyone who will be in his orbit. It’s what he did while serving a decade-long stint in Congress and in the Colorado General Assembly before that.
“I want to say, ‘What are your goals?’ What do you want to accomplish?” Coffman said. “And to work from the perspective of trying to make, to realize their goals in a way that may require them to compromise. But the goal is not to just push back but to make things happen.”
Coffman has already spoken to Hancock, whom he said wants to meet with on a regular basis. Theresa Marchetta, a spokesperson for Hancock’s office, said the two will be meeting in the near future. It’s yet to be determined how often they will meet.
“As Denver’s most populous neighboring city, which we partner and collaborate frequently with on many different topics and projects, the Mayor hopes to continue the open and collaborative relationship he’s had with Aurora’s previous mayors,” Marchetta said in a statement to Denverite.
The two cities share similar concerns over growth and transportation. These are the kind of things Coffman said Aurora can’t solve by itself. He does call them “self-inflicted” problems. He doesn’t think Aurora’s growth is necessarily tied to Denver’s spike in population.
While Coffman doesn’t have nearly as much power as Hancock, who oversees Denver in a way similar to how a CEO oversees a company, the incoming mayor wants to lure developers who will match his vision for the city. That means taking advantage of the city capacity for new development and playing up Aurora’s proximity to Denver International Airport (all while addressing concerns, like noise issues that have led to a lawsuit).
He’s taking steps to entice developers, even ones he said probably aren’t interested in building in Aurora. He was planning on meeting a developer he said has built transit-oriented micro-apartments in Denver.
“So what I want to do is pick him up, I want to drive Colfax with him, and we’re going to sit in a restaurant on the Aurora section of Colfax and say, ‘Tell me what you think?'” Coffman said.
He wants to bring in people who can redevelop some of the city’s older areas while making sure people aren’t being pushed out. That doesn’t necessarily mean adding density. It will be more of a balance of bringing residential and commercial development to certain areas.
“If you look at the Colfax corridor, it’s not going to redevelop as retail,” Coffman said.
Coffman is also interested in learning more about business improvement districts to raise money for creative centers for arts or entertainment.
Before pitching and building such spaces, addressing safety issues along the Colfax corridor will be a priority. Coffman said it would be hard to get people to build in areas where locals don’t want to come out at night.
The developer gave him some ideas about how to fix this.
“What he said was interesting, I thought. [He said] you’ve got to have eyes on the street 24 hours a day,” Coffman said. “That’s the best thing you can do to reduce [crime], not necessarily police presence, but restaurants, bars, nightlife, just different activities, just ongoing, all the time.”
He said he’s not interested in partisan politics.
The mayor’s seat is non-partisan, but he’s still a Republican.
“What I want to do, I think nationally, is to be an example of a Republican that can govern in an inclusive manner in a very diverse community,” Coffman said.
Coffman’s former congressional campaign manager Tyler Sandberg said Coffman is qualified for his new position partially because its a role he’s kind of already done.
“In a way, he’s been a sort of shadow mayor for a couple of years, because he’s been involved in local concerns,” Sandberg said. “I think he’s uniquely positioned for the job.”
Coffman is promising to work across the aisle. He called Montgomery a leader in the community, someone he wants to consult with. The two have chatted since the election, though Montgomery said they have yet to speak in detail.
Montgomery said he will personally continue advocating for things he campaigned on, like bringing more affordable housing options to the city, calling for more inclusive development, and hiring more from within the community for these kinds of projects.
When asked what kind of advice he would have for his former foe, Montgomery said, “Just make sure that you are truly engaging the community in a meaningful way. And making sure that the diverse communities in Aurora are truly engaged and are not just political touchpoints.”