AURORA | As Election Day draws to a close, it seems a slate of progressive city council candidates will claim victory and join a historically conservative Aurora City Council.
In the crowded and tight race for two at-large seats on the city council, progressive newcomer Allison Hiltz appears to have has a strong lead for the first open seat. The race for the second seat has Dave Gruber leading Tom Tobiassen by 91 votes as of Wednesday afternoon.
In Aurora Public Schools, four candidates backed by the local teacher’s union won seats among seven contenders.
In Ward I, upstart candidate Crystal Murillo leads incumbent Sally Mounier by approximately 400 votes. In Ward II, Nicole Johnston leads the pack with more than 2,600 votes. And in the At-Large race, Allison Hiltz will likely come out on top. She already has 15,000 votes.
The three are all graduates of Emerge Colorado, a nation-wide organization that trains women Democrats how to run a political campaign, and they gathered at El Tequileno in Aurora with the Arapahoe County Democratic Party to celebrate the night’s wins.
With each candidate entrance, the crowd would erupt into cheers and chants.
Conservative incumbent Marsha Berzins will likely return to her seat in Ward III, with the more progressive vote split three ways among Naquetta Ricks, Debi Hunter Holen and Martha Lugo. Berzins campaign drew 1,736 votes. Lugo had just less than 1,300 and the rest of the candidates drew less than 1,000 votes.
It’s still too soon to tell who may hold the second at-large seat between Gruber and Tobiassen.
I guess we’ll see how (late) votes come in and any contested votes,” Tobiassen said late in the evening. “I sat with Councilman Bob LeGare a few years ago when he was ahead and wound up losing by 57 votes. So we’ll have to see. But Dave Gruber is a good guy, and if it goes his way he will serve our city well.”
Johnston was ebullient when it became clear her lead was unstoppable for the Ward II seat.
“I am just so hopeful about what we can do for the community,” Johnston, with a celebratory beer in hand, said as a screen near the bar showed her clear lead.
She said she felt at peace all day, knowing that there wasn’t more her and her volunteers could have done in the race.
Likewise, Murillo said she started off the night with her volunteers because “it was important to celebrate the process.”
Aurora Prop. 2K, which if approved would allow a pay increase for the mayor and council members, is currently looking as if it will pass. At press time, the lead was only a couple hundred votes.
Cherry Creek School District cancelled its school board election since the two candidates vying for two open spots are running unopposed.
In Arapahoe County, about 25 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in this year’s election.
According to the county’s early statistics, about 53 percent of voters were women and 47 percent were men.
While Democrats hold a registration advantage in the county over Republicans — with 136,084 registered Democrats compared to 113,828 Republicans — the GOP actually turned out more voters this time around. So far, 29,642 Republican voters cast their ballot while 28,610 Democrats did.
And unaffiliated voters, the largest voting bloc in the county, 153,221, had a particularly low turnout with just 21,369 voting so far.
Aurora is the county’s largest municipality and voters accounted for a huge chunk of the county’s votes with 36,029. Tiny Cherry Hills Village had the fewest votes cast with just seven.
The city council races have been relatively uneventful until the last few days. A skirmish over campaign sign shenanigans was followed by news yesterday about oil industry money being infused into city council races.
The same oil and gas industry political action committee that dropped $100,000 in the Broomfield fracking ballot question has poured that amount into Aurora City Council races at the last minute, backing two incumbents, a former state lawmaker, a local chamber of commerce favorite and a former Aurora cop.
Campaign financial disclosure records filed Nov. 1 with the Aurora City Clerk office show that Vital for Colorado donated $100,000 to a PAC called Aurora for a Stronger Economy in five $20,000 payments all dated Oct. 20, 2017. Ballots for the Aurora municipal race were mailed out earlier in October. Returns have been slow.
All of the candidates they backed other than Gruber and Berzins appear to have lost their races.
Aurora Public Schools gets a new board
Tuesday was always going to mark a major change for the Aurora Public School Board with four out of the seven seats up for election. But a complete sweep by the four candidate block supported by the teachers union, Election Day singles what could be a sea change for the board.
Debbie Gerkin, Kevin Cox and Kyla Armstrong-Romero all won decisive victories with fellow running mate Marques Ivey seemingly pulling out a win with most of the votes counted Tuesday night. The four all declared separately but after the teachers union decided to back them, they decided to run as a complete slate.
“Honestly I was just hoping for the best. We had heard from people that running as a slate, we might get two of us on the board,” Armstrong-Romero said. “I’m so excited for all of us to join the board.”
The four will replace APS board members Amber Drevon, the sitting board president, Eric Nelson, who both declined to run for a second term on the board, JulieMarie Shepherd Macklin is term limited from running again, and Barbara Yamrick, who lost her bid for reelection Tuesday.
“Obviously I’m excited that I’m going to have the opportunity to serve on the board and to do it with my slate mates,” Gerkin said. “It’s going to be a learning curve for all of us but we’re excited to learn.”
Cox praised the work of teachers in the district that came out it force to canvas for the slate, including about 80 volunteers who came out in for the final push of canvassing before the election.
“I didn’t expect this result at first,” Cox said. “But we had such support from the teachers. I knew it was going to work because we had the teachers behind us.”
While Gerkin and her fellow slate mates will be joining the board at the same time, none of the candidates said there had been any discussions about what the first items on the agenda would be for what constitutes a majority on the board. And each candidate wanted to make it clear that while they were joining the board together, voters shouldn’t expect a monolithic voting block.
“It’s been great getting to know the three other candidates and working with them. But we don’t all agree on everything,” Ivey said.
The four members will be jumping right and have some major issues to deal with, including Superintendent Rico Munn’s contract with the district up for possible renewal in 2018. Each member of the slate said they were looking forward to talking with Munn and wanted to approach the relationship fresh and without any preconceived notion.
“I look at it like I’m a new football coach coming into a team for the first time,” Ivey said. “I’m going to evaluate the talent and approach it with an open mind. Everyone starts out with an A with me when I first meet him.”
Current election Results for Aurora city council and school board races. Check back for updated election totals.
Aurora Ballot Question 2K: City council and mayor raises
The city is asking voters whether council members and the mayor should get salary bump.
Ballot Question 2k would change the charter to reflect an annual salary of $80,000 for the mayor, $18,500 for city council members and $20,550 for the mayor-pro temp.
Currently, council members earn $13,950, the mayor makes $60,226 and the mayor pro temp nets $15,953.
A vote of residents is required because the salaries are set in the city charter. The last time the city voted to increase pay was in 1993, when council salaries were just above $8,000 and the mayor made nearly $12,000.
Currently, council members earn $13,950, the mayor makes $60,226 and the mayor pro temp nets $15,953.
The ordinance was put on the ballot by council on a 6-4 vote.
|AURORA PROPOSITION 2K||Arapahoe County||Douglas County||Adams County||Total|
|City Council and Mayor Raises||Yes||20308||143||1189||21640|
Aurora City Council AT-LARGE
|AURORA CITY COUNCIL||Arapahoe County||Douglas County||Adams County||Total|
It’s been a crowded at-large race this time around. David Gruber, Brian Arnold, Tim Huffman, Russ Wagner, Allison Hiltz, Reid Hettich, Abel Laeke and Tom Tobiassen are in the race where councilmembers Brad Pierce and Barb Cleland are both leaving council.
The group differed on how to handle homelessness. Huffman and Gruber said there’s a point in which action by the city could be counter-productive. Arnold, executive director of Aurora Warms the Nights, said affordable housing would be a good start in addressing the problem.
On transportation, many of the candidates said maintenance is a top priority. Tobiassen named keeping the R Line up and running a top transportation priority for the city. RTD wanted to significantly cut service on the line, but ultimately decided against that measure. Tobiassen also believes the traffic jams along I-225 are a major issue.
Before getting into politics, Laeke had several run-ins with law enforcement, as the Aurora Sentinel has uncovered. Laeke is a registered sex offender and was charged with felonies three different times — but he was never convicted, which according to the city, would have barred him from running for council.
Aurora City Council WARD I
|WARD I||Arapahoe County||Douglas County||Adams County||Total|
In Ward I, the question since the beginning of the campaign has been who voters believe better represents the ward, a longtime resident and council incumbent or a millennial who’s making her first plunge into A-town politics.
Along the east Colfax corridor, where Aurora’s homeless population is most visible, Mounier said she would be open to building some sort of campus that has multiple resources for the homeless. Murillo also agreed that the city must act in some capacity to help that population, but so far doesn’t have a detailed plan in how that should happen.
When it came to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which city council took up in late September, the candidates both say they support it.
But Mounier moved to send a resolution that would have declared Aurora’s support of DACA to a policy committee for “further development” in September.
On giving Aurora the title of sanctuary city, Murillo is supportive, but Mounier not so much.
“We follow it (the law) or we don’t,” Mounier said during a Channel 8 candidate forum. “Are we going to pick and choose what laws we are going to obey? For me, we’re going to follow the law.”
Aurora City Council WARD II
|WARD II||Arapahoe County||Douglas County||Adams County||Total|
|Nicole Emily Johnston||2334||na||811||3145|
|Ruben L. Medina||268||na||222||490|
|Robert E. O’Riley||563||na||173||736|
The five that are vying for the seat are: Bob Hagedorn, Nicole Johnston, Ruben Medina, Robert O’Riley and Jeff Wilson.
Being replaced is Renie Peterson, who is term-limited. She endorsed Johnston for the seat.
Many of the Ward II candidates said there should be more transportation options for those on the outskirts of town, some, such as Wilson and Johnston, added that road maintenance and better connections points are their top priority.
During the Aurora Channel 8 candidate forum, Medina, along with Johnston, said he would support asking voters to increase taxes for roads and transportation, but wouldn’t be opposed to looking for that funding in other places, such as the budget or working to get state funding either.
The candidates all seemed to agree on the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival policy, which has been a hot topic in Aurora since the city council passed a resolution from the floor to a committee.
Aurora City Council WARD III
|WARD III||Arapahoe County||Douglas County||Adams County||Total|
|Debi Hunter Holen||905||na||na||905|
Most candidates said they support smart growth and incentivizing big businesses only when necessary. And on transportation, many said they’d like more emphasis on road maintenance.
Ricks said she’d like to see some emphasis on bolstering small business.
The Ward III race has grown intense at times, as some of the candidates accused one another on social media of yard sign shenanigans. Ricks attempted to file a complaint with the city after she said she tripped on a prairie dog burrow moving her sings after they were covered with Berzins’ signs.
In September, claims were made that Ricks was not living at the address she provided as her residence to the city. But a man who claimed to be Ricks’ landlord said she did live at the Ward III address.
Aurora Public Schools BOARD OF EDUCATION
|AURORA PUBLIC SCHOOLS||Arapahoe County||Douglas County||Adams County||Total|
|Miguel In Suk Lovato||5847||na||801||6648|
Getting to know the new school board members if preliminary vote tallies hold:
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Armstrong-Romero moved to Aurora with her family when she was in middle school. A 2005 graduate of Overland High School, she stayed in-state for her education.
Armstrong-Romero currently works as the Senate Bill 94 director in Denver for the 2nd Judicial District. The 1991 bill provided funding for programs that divert juveniles from criminal detention and reduce the time juveniles serve in detention. She said her position has made clear to her to the benefits of funding programs that help at-risk youth, an issue she’d deal with in APS.
On election night, Armstrong-Romero said one of the issues she wanted to tackle first after she was sworn in to her new role was making sure the board was able to hold new charter schools accountable.
A native of Houston, Texas, Cox is a commercial truck driver that wants to take his experience throughout his life and bring it to the APS board. Cox said he had to turn down a scholarship to University of Texas at Austin when he was in high school because his family needed his help paying the bills.
Cox said he wants to focus on making sure students are prepared when they leave APS, whether that’s to go on to college or to move directly into a career path with required certifications.
One of the first issues Cox wanted to tackle on the board was engaging the community to assess what is happening on the ground at each school in the district. He wanted to hear from the students, teachers and parents about what is and isn’t working and what power he has to make the necessary changes.
While Gerkin’s never served on the APS board, she’s long been a familiar name and face. Gerkin has worked as a teacher in APS, served as principal of Crawford Elementary School and as a teacher coach and mentor for APS. Along with her educational work, Gerkin is a minister at the Fireside Christian Church in Denver.
Gerkin said her experience in the classroom, the principal’s office and as a mentor has shaped her views of how to tackle problems she will face on the board.
On election night, Gerkin said she wanted to work with Munn to understand the decisions behind the current budget and what challenges the district is facing in the future. She said it is up to her and the other new board members to learn as much as possible in the shortest time possible to make sure they have all the information they need to help steer the district in the best direction possible.
Marques Ivey’s education on what teachers in APS face on a daily basis came from the dining room table. Ivey, a trial lawyer and parking magistrate in Aurora, is married to a teacher who had been employed in the district. Ivey said his wife’s on-the-job experiences have helped shape how he sees the issues facing APS and the school board.
A native of Indiana but a resident of Aurora for the past 14 years, Ivey’s resume includes a stint as a public defender. He said his focus has been on providing representation to those who can’t afford it and he wants to bring equity to the district, especially in representing the diverse student body that attends APS.
The first issue Ivey said was on his agenda was a complete analysis of the budget from top to bottom. How the district spends its money impacts so many things down the line and he wanted to make sure he had a complete grasp on the situation. He also wanted to get in touch with each and every school and hear from the students and teachers about what the district is doing right and how it can improve.