2017 CITY COUNCIL: Race for Ward III pits conservative incumbent city lawmaker against a host of progressive challengers

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AURORAWard III incumbent Marsha Berzins is hoping to serve another term on Aurora City Council. But four others are wanting to represent the district: Naquetta Ricks, former at-large councilwoman Debi Hunter Holen, Robert Hargove and Martha Lugo.

 Among Berzins’ top accomplishments so far in office is the removal of the old Fan Fare building on Havana Street., as well as helping that area with “issues related to crime and homelessness,” according to her campaign website.

“My vision for Ward III is to make sure everyone – regardless of their station in life – has an equal and fair opportunity for individual success to provide for themselves and their families,” Berzins says on her campaign website. “Securing the opportunity to succeed for Aurora’s employers, entrepreneurs, employees, retirees and our students is at the core of my belief in public service.”

With that, Berzins said she realizes the city doesn’t create jobs, but helps create the platform that makes businesses successful and able to create more jobs. So keeping taxes low and “bureaucracy in check,” is important to her.

Ricks, who grew up in Aurora after moving from Liberia with her family, has spent her career working in finance, and thus wants to bring accountability to the city budget.

“I will lead efforts to bring more accountability and transparency to city hall, work to cut wasteful spending, and advance efforts to root out fraud, tax abuses and cronyism in city departments,” her campaign website says.

While she gives no specific examples on her site or in candidate forums of wasteful spending, fraud, tax abuse of cronyism, she does say a sense of transparency is needed in Aurora city government.

Ricks also believes Ward III’s infrastructure has been neglected. As a council member she said she wants to fix roads, sidewalks and eliminate neighborhood blight.

Hunter Holen wants to return to city council, but this time serving a ward, rather than her previous post as an at-large candidate. Like several other candidates throughout the various races, Hunter Holen supports smart growth.

“A city without growth dies,” she said in a candidate questionnaire.

Adding on her campaign website, “as Aurora continues to grow and develop, we need leadership that will take the long view.”

Hunter Holen also holds education as a top priority, saying that Aurora should do all it can to retain good teachers to the area.

Hargrove has been elusive during the campaign. He hasn’t responded to Aurora Sentinel questionnaires or participated in candidate forums, but on his website he lists education as his top priority.

“This particular issue has been increasingly gaining coverage all over the world. Why exactly? It is an issue that needs to be addressed, and heavily discussed among politicians, lobbyists, and congressmen alike,” Hargrove’s website says.

Other than “pushing for change,” he doesn’t outline any specifics on education reform.

Hargrove also points out health care as a major concern on his candidate website.

“I want to ensure that everyone who needs assistance in health can get it by pointing them in the right direction for resources such as free clinics and information on health discounts.”

Lugo was a probation officer in the 18th Judicial District Probation Department for 10 years. Currently, in addition to finishing up a Ph.D degree she serves on the Aurora Human Relations Commission and the Immigrant and Refugee Commission.

Her reason for running is to put the people first, she says on her website. Among other goals, she wants the community to have more access to services, steer the city toward being more environmentally friendly and support gender and racial equality.

Some of the hot topics that emerged during interviews and in forums with the candidates were homelessness, Aurora’s stance on immigration policy and transportation.

On homelessness, Hargrove’s campaign website says the city must act.

“Over my years of being a resident of the city of Aurora, I realized that there are not too many resources for the homeless individual in our community,” his said. “I drive up and down Sable Blvd. and I say to myself, ‘Something needs to change or we need to figure out how to help change the mindset of the individuals that are homeless so that we can help them help their self.’”

Berzins lists diversity as one of her major visions for the Ward III.

“With over 100 languages spoken in our public schools, I believe our diversity should be celebrated in every aspect of things we do in the city,” her campaign website says. “We are truly a national model for successfully welcoming so many of the world’s hard-working and law abiding immigrants.”

While Berzins was a council member in favor of sending a resolution supporting the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to a committee for further development and encouraged other city council members to lobby federal lawmakers, she said during a candidate forum she is in favor or finding a permanent fix for DACA.

“I think a resolution would send a strong message,” Hunter Holen said during the Channel 8 candidate forum, adding that lobbying would be a good follow-up.

Lugo, who champions herself as a progressive candidate, said she also supports DACA and would be in favor of Aurora adopting the title of “sanctuary city,” which city officials have voted down in the past.

Hargrove doesn’t list anything on his website specific to immigration.

On transportation, Hunter Holen said in a candidate questionnaire general maintenance should be the biggest concern, followed by “the expansion and widening of 6th Avenue and thirdly, develop a creative way to fund the first/last mile concept. And somewhere in there, provide safe lanes for bicycles.”

Lugo said traffic is a major concern, while Ricks said public transportation’s reach, specifically in Ward III, needs to be addressed.

“There should be more fluidity, especially during peak traffic hours,” Lugo said in a candidate questionnaire.