AURORA — Aurora voters have less than a week left to cast their ballots and decide who will be the next leader of the third largest city in Colorado.
Three candidates are on the ballot — Incumbent Mike Coffman, Juan Marcano and Jeff Sanford. Denver7 spoke with the two leading the race when it comes to fundraising — Coffman and Marcano.
Coffman was elected to the mayoral seat in 2019 and is seeking re-election. He said the last four years have been a handful, since Aurora faces urban challenges while being a suburb.
Coffman wants to serve another four years as mayor "to continue what I've been working on. So, been working to reduce crime, to deal with the challenges of homelessness... and to address the issue of housing affordability."
According to the city, Coffman has raised $254,382.91, which is more than double what his challenger, Aurora City Councilmember Juan Marcano, has raised. Marcano has raised $106,179.97.
“In terms of raw dollars, I expected to be outraised, right. He's been in politics longer than I've been alive," said Marcano. "So, I can't compete with that Rolodex, but I have something that he doesn't have, and that is grassroots support and genuine support that's local.”
Even though Aurora's elections are nonpartisan, Coffman is a former Republican congressman and Marcano defines himself as a progressive Democrat.
Tied for Coffman's top donor is the president and CEO of an oil and natural gas exploration and production company, Roger Hutson.
“Roger Hutson and I have been friends since the Earth was cooling," Coffman said with a laugh. "We've been friends for a long time, way before I got to this office. And he doesn't do any work in this area. I don't think he does any work anymore in Colorado, any drilling.”
Meanwhile, the largest single donation given to Marcano came from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105.
“It was through their small donor committee. So, that's a combination of no more than $50 per person," said Marcano. "A lot of our Ethiopian community who work in service, the service industry or in the medical field, are SEIU 105 members. So having their support is a huge honor for me, so I'm really happy about that. I was very excited to earn their support.”
City data shows the third candidate, military veteran Jeffrey Sanford, has raised no money.
Aurora to decide between three candidates in mayoral race
Coffman believes the three largest issues that must be addressed in Aurora are crime, homelessness and housing affordability. His top priority is crime in Aurora.
“People are concerned about — across the board, irrespective of party — they're concerned about crime," said Coffman. "They want a tough on crime approach, and that's what I'm offering. And I believe that, at the end of the day, that will fundamentally make a difference.”
Coffman believes accelerating the hiring process in the police department, which has already happened, will lead to a fully staffed department by early 2024.
If reelected, he hopes to develop certain services for the unhoused population in the city that he believes could be implemented by March or April.
"I want to create a specialized court to deal with low-level offenses for homeless people, that focus not on punishing them, but getting them into treatment in exchange for dropping any charges," Coffman said. “It's going to be different than Denver in that they're going to be required to do something in exchange for those supports that they get, as opposed to just having the wraparound services there. And I hope that approach is successful, that in giving them the discretion to utilize them or not, I want them to utilize those services. And we're probably going to take a very tough love approach to get them to move in that direction.”
Coffman said he would also like to improve the city's partnership with school districts to prevent youth violence through more after-school programs, specifically targeted at grades six through twelve.
The current mayor also believes by making housing in Aurora more affordable, the city will become more attractive in terms of economic development.
Marcano, on the other hand, views affordable housing as his main priority.
“I put housing at the top because in order for you to have a safe city, in order for you to be successful in our society, you have to have stable housing, first and foremost," Marcano said. “The way we would tackle that issue here is, frankly, we just need to have more investment from the city's available resources into our Housing and Community Services Department. We need to really bolster our ability to do gap financing grant funding, and to support that we're a Housing Authority and the federal government support that we get for the Aurora Housing Authority to just really aggressively build high quality and mixed income, mixed use housing... One of the big failures in the past for public housing efforts have been that they just concentrated poverty, and put that housing on the fringes. We need to ensure that we're actually building where existing services and employment opportunities are at.”
Affordable housing directly connects with homelessness as well, according to Marcano.
"Most people, they lose their housing because of temporary disability, job loss, fleeing a domestic violence situation, or just simply divorce. And then a lot of the behavioral and mental health problems typically follow that. So if we can ensure that housing remains affordable for our residents, we'll have less homelessness. And then we need to invest in permanent supportive housing, and rapid rehousing to address the unhoused population that we currently have," said Marcano.
He agrees that vacancies in the police department must be filled, but also said the Police Area Representatives (PAR) program should be the foundation of the department.
"It's something that was really innovative and was started in the 1980s here. Our model was so unique that actually a lot of other agencies have taken it and run with it. Whereas here, department leadership and previous councils have not prioritized it. So it's been on the backburner," said Marcano. “It's much better for us to be able to resolve problems through conversations or intervention, because you're in tune with the community and you know the folks who live there, than it is to wait until things get out of hand and have to respond, you know, with lights and sirens and weapons drawn. So I would much rather see us reinvest in our department and make sure that PAR is the foundation of that department.”
Both Coffman and Marcano said they support Interim Police Chief Art Acevedo becoming the permanent chief, if Acevedo decides to stay.
Marcano said there would have to be big changes when it comes to how the Youth Violence Prevention Program is handled in Aurora.
“We need the city council to stop meddling in our Youth Violence Prevention Program. So, I don't know if folks are aware of this, but we've actually had complete staff turnover in that program since we began it. And that's because some of my colleagues, basically harass our staff. They try to micromanage staff, which by the way, is a violation of our charter. We're not supposed to do that," said Marcano. "It's never actually, really been able to get it's feet under it, because council continues to meddle. So the first thing I would change is, we're not playing around with violations of the city charter. If you keep doing this, we're going to censure you. And we're going to make sure your constituents know that you're harassing staff and making it more difficult for them to address these issues that we have in our community.”
Election day is November 7, and polls are open until 7 p.m. Denver7's voter guide breaks down each of the issues in Colorado this year.