A Republican-turned-Democrat is preparing to announce her candidacy against a Democrat-turned-Republican for mayor of Aurora, The Colorado Statesman has learned.
Former state Rep. Debbie Stafford — who finished her legislative career as a Democrat after being elected four times as a Republican from House District 40 — is planning a run against former City Councilman and former state Rep. Steve Hogan, one of two announced candidates in the nonpartisan November election for the open seat.
While she doesn’t plan an official campaign kick-off until early next week, Stafford said Tuesday afternoon she was planning to pull a candidacy packet at the Aurora city clerk’s office later that day.
“I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to let the citizens of Aurora know it would be a great honor to serve them,” Stafford said. “I’ve been involved in this community for many years and I’m excited about the opportunity to serve Aurora.”
Stafford said she’s throwing her hat in the ring because she wants to leave a better Aurora to her grandchildren — numbering 19 following the birth of twin grandsons in January.
“I want my grandkids also to have great opportunities as they grow, and want to make sure as a grandparent I’m doing my part to help make sure we forge a foundation for our community and their kids,” she said.
She said top issues in her campaign will include transportation challenges, securing adequate funding for libraries and recreation centers, and targeted redevelopment throughout Colorado’s third-largest city as the sprawling one-time bedroom community begins to show its age.
Terming Aurora’s ongoing budget woes “very challenging,” Stafford said she plans to bring a keen eye to the city’s fiscal situation. “I’ll constantly look at trying to deliver quality services and make sure public safety is a high priority,” she said. “The city could reassess areas where moneys are being spent and try to continue to trim back, not do as many major cuts. We’ll make public safety and advancing our future opportunities forward a priority.”
The self-described “library junkie” — she said her favorite place to hang out in Aurora is inside any one of its libraries — said frustration over the city’s recent shuttering of several libraries is one of the issues that spurred her to run for mayor. “It’s pretty frustrating right now having libraries close,” she said. “I want to make sure Aurora citizens who are not in the Arapahoe Library District also have an opportunity to access library services as needed.”
Stafford’s entry into the race will mean Democrats have candidates up and down the ticket in the November Aurora election. While the election is nonpartisan — party affiliation isn’t listed on the ballot, and candidates win slots via petition, not by party nomination — some of Stafford’s backers said the candidacy of conservative Republican and Tea Party favorite Jude Sandvall could make it harder for Hogan to count on a win in a city that tends to elect Republicans.
Hogan has been on and off the eastern suburb’s city council for more than three decades, first serving in the late 1970s and eventually racking up 24 years on the body. He ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1982 and again in a special election in 1983 but later changed his affiliation to Republican.
Stafford served eight years in the General Assembly representing a sprawling district that stretches from south-central Aurora onto the plains — covering rural Arapahoe and all of Elbert county — through 2008, when she was term-limited. She switched parties in October 2007, angry over her treatment at the hands of fellow Republicans after she supported a bill that would have made it easier for homeowners to sue builders for construction defects.
She said she also felt ostracized by her caucus when a lawyer who represented Republicans filed a campaign finance complaint against her over a thank-you ad she ran in a local newspaper. She said her attorney — provided by the state Republican Party — told her to expect trouble “if I poke my finger in the eye of our major donors.”
A domestic violence counselor, Stafford compared herself to battered women who finally face facts and leave an abusive relationship, a description that drew scoffs and rebukes from minority Republicans.
“I made this decision to stop the battering and find a way for my voice to be heard in my district,” Stafford said shortly after joining the majority Democrats.
Vowing to “bring many of the relationships and partnerships from the state level” to bear on questions of transportation funding and other municipal questions, Stafford brushed aside questions this week about lingering ill will from members of her former party.
“My relationship with most Republicans has kind of moved on with me,” she said. “We’ve come to the point where we can have friendly relationships. I think we’ve moved past that — at least I certainly have.” She said she’s perfectly comfortable working with people of all political stripes, adding that if any Republicans bear a grudge, “that’s with them.”
An ordained pastor, Stafford works as the faith-based coordinator at Aurora Mental Health and volunteers her time as an auctioneer, tallying in the neighborhood of $1 million raised for charities with her gavel. She is the co-author of the counseling manual “Shattered Dreams, a Biblical Outlook on Domestic Violence,” and has worked for nearly 20 years as a counselor for domestic violence offenders.
Stafford vowed to run a clean race. “I have no intentions of having any negative campaigning,” she said. “I’m just there to talk about what I’m offering. People are tired of negative campaigning — that’s not my goal.”
Hogan announced his candidacy on Jan. 26 flanked by former mayors Paul Tauer and Dennis Champine. Tauer served as mayor for a dozen years before handing the reins over to his son, outgoing Mayor Ed Tauer, who was first elected in 2003 and is term-limited. Hogan counts as his supporters former Gov. Bill Owens, former state Rep. Doug Friednash and current and former City Council members Bob Broom, Bob FitzGerald, Bob LeGare, Renie Peterson, Brad Pierce, Steve Bobrick, Deb Wallace and Dave Williams.
Stafford said she planned to unveil her initial endorsements at her announcement early next week.
Hogan raised $24,236 — including a transfer of about half that amount from his city council campaign coffers — for an exploratory committee to weigh a run for mayor last year, according to documents filed with the Aurora city clerk’s office. He had $20,736 on hand at the end of the reporting period, having spent $3,500 for a trip to Washington, D.C. “to help lobby Congress on issues important to Aurora.” The next filing deadline for 2011 municipal elections isn’t until August.
Aurora recently made its mayor a full-time position. It pays a salary of $54,999.
Aurora’s municipal election is Nov. 1. Candidates qualify for the ballot by petition and have 20 days to gather 100 valid signatures beginning on Aug. 3.