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August 25, 2023 08:46 AM MDT

Coffman Ditches "Strong Mayor" Initiative, but Damage is Done

  • by: Colorado Pols
Heavy is the clown crown.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman used the occasion of a Friday news dump to announce that his politically-disastrous proposal to turn Aurora into a “strong mayor” city was being dropped on account of the fact that it was killing his chances of being re-elected in November.

Okay, that’s not what Coffman said exactly, but it’s not hard to read between the lines here. As Max Levy reports for The Aurora Sentinel:

Saying challenges from opponents caused them to miss a procedural deadline, supporters of a proposal to empower Aurora’s mayor announced Friday they are ending their 2023 campaign and want to bring the ballot initiative back in 2025.

“I’m disappointed that the ballot measure is not on the 2023 ballot to give the opportunity for voters to decide the issue, but I’m glad that it can be on the ballot in 2025 without having to gather signatures again,” said Mayor Mike Coffman in a statement. [Pols emphasis]

A City of Aurora spokesman did not immediately confirm whether the campaign would be able to resume in 2025 without repeating the process of gathering signatures and submitting paperwork to the city clerk’s office.

The city also did not immediately clarify whether an Aug. 30 hearing where opponents were scheduled to challenge the clerk’s finding that the petitions submitted by the campaign conformed to city rules would still take place.

Don’t expect Democrat Juan Marcano to stop talking about Coffman’s attempted power grab even if the ballot initiative won’t move forward.

It’s not entirely clear exactly what happened that made proponents of the “strong mayor” ballot proposal unable to move forward with an initiative that did have enough voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot (even if many of those voters might have been duped into adding their name to said petition).

But for now, at least, the “what” is less important than the “why.” And the “why” is pretty damn obvious: Team Coffman clearly decided that it was better to toss the “strong mayor” initiative overboard and hope Coffman’s badly-leaking boat could still cough and wheeze its way to Election Day on November 7. Coffman didn’t want a “strong mayor” system of government if it looked like he wouldn’t get to be the strong mayor himself.

This entire saga is the worst self-own by a Colorado politician since Levi Tillemann was macing himself in the face. Coffman finally acknowledged earlier this month that he personally came up with the idea for the “strong mayor” initiative — he had refused to discuss his position while proponents waited to see if it qualified for the ballot — and when he finally spoke, he promptly jammed both feet into his mouth (Coffman also donated $10,000 of his own money to the initiative campaign, which was revealed later).

Coffman’s “strong mayor” proposal was widely condemned and opposed by the majority of the Aurora City Council — both Democrats and Republicans — and Coffman was shelled with criticism from both The Denver Post and The Aurora Sentinel. Dave Perry, the editor of the Sentinel, wrote in an editorial that Coffman’s initiative was a “colossal scam” and a “swindle.”

[mantra-pullquote align=”center” textalign=”center” width=”95%”]“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.”

— Aurora Sentinel editorial (8/9/23)[/mantra-pullquote]

The initiative campaign itself quickly became a referendum on Coffman as mayor because of how poorly it was handled by everyone involved. Charlie Richardson, a former city council member and city manager in Aurora who has been a vocal critic of Coffman’s attempted power grab, absolutely unloaded on the campaign in his comments to the Sentinel today:

“This could be studied in a political science class on how absolutely not to do a strong mayor initiative,” Richardson said of the campaign, mentioning how supporters continued submitting signatures to the clerk’s office after June 6, which was the latest the city said it could accept signatures by and still have enough time to complete the necessary pre-election processes.

“Nevertheless, they proceeded,” Richardson said. “And so people spent a lot of money, a lot of time and effort for something that was essentially dead on arrival.” [Pols emphasis]

Can we just, you know, pretend this never happened?

Aurora was already shaping up to be the most important battleground of the November 2023 election even before the “strong mayor” debacle shredded whatever was left of Coffman’s credibility in the city. The Mayor himself was on thin ice with voters anyway after his narrow 2019 victory for mayor resulted in few solutions and more problems for city residents. But the “strong mayor” initiative seemed to be the impetus for Democrats to align behind one candidate — City Council Member Juan Marcano — in order to take down the longtime Republican elected official.

For Coffman, ditching this stupid “strong mayor” initiative won’t stop the internal bleeding caused by his half-truths and doublespeak on his involvement in the process. It’s a little like a football team switching to a backup quarterback when trailing by 40 points in the fourth quarter. As Mark Harden wrote for The Denver Post:

“Aurorans…should consider whether Coffman – the mastermind of the plan’s misleading rollout, who spent months obscuring his role – can be trusted to assume a strong mayor’s powers.”

Questions about Coffman’s integrity and honesty don’t go away along with the ballot initiative, which gained so much bad attention that it turned the Aurora municipal election into a must-watch final few months. It might be time, in fact, to bring out the old, “I misspoke and I apologize” routine once again.

If Coffman loses his bid for re-election, and we’d bet against him at this point, he’ll need only place blame on the guy in his bathroom mirror.


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