By most conventional measures, Jude Sandvall’s run for mayor of Aurora would have to be called a longshot, and that’s being charitable. The conservative barely registers in the polling — only a smidgeon of a point above the margin of error — and has raised just a fraction of the cash his better-known opponents have banked.
What’s more, the unpolished candidate is going up against a trio of political veterans who count, between them, more than 40 years on the sprawling burg’s city council and in the state legislature, including one who first took office in the 1970s.
But that’s what the real estate agent and mortgage broker says sets him apart in an election that could be anything but conventional. In a crowded field for an open seat, Sandvall predicts his brand of grassroots campaigning will spell victory in a low-turnout, winner-take-all election where the more established candidates could split the vote.
“I don’t need a job. It’s not my turn to be mayor, but it’s our opportunity, all of us,” he told supporters at a fundraiser on Aug. 10 at the Cool River Café in Greenwood Village.
This week, Sandvall, a registered Republican, was the first candidate to be certified for the nonpartisan November ballot expected to include at least six candidates. (Hopefuls have until next week to file forms with the city and then only have to gather 100 signatures to make the ballot.)
In campaign finance reports filed earlier this month, Sandvall reported raising about $20,000 and loaned his campaign $3,000 during the period that ended at the end of July, placing him third among announced candidates.
His marquee opponents are former City Councilman Steve Hogan, who was elected as a Democrat to the Legislature in the wide-tie era but switched parties decades ago, and two-term City Councilman Ryan Frazier, another Republican, who mounted unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate and then the U.S. House in the last election. The two each reported raising more than $125,000, though Hogan also added about $25,000 raised over the last year by an exploratory committee.
Two Democrats are also running. Former state Rep. Debbie Stafford, who switched parties four years ago during her fourth term in office, has the backing of the Democratic establishment, including a bevy of lawmakers, but lagged in fundraising this period, taking in just short of $10,000. Former RTD and Aurora Public Schools board member Barbara Yamrick launched her shoe-string campaign this month, reporting $100 in contributions.
Hypnotherapist Sheilah Davis is also running and reported $83.50 in donations.
“If you’re tired of business as usual — and I know I am — then Jude is your candidate for mayor of Aurora,” said prominent conservative activist Rich Sokol introducing Sandvall at the lunch-time fundraiser last week.
Peppering his remarks with references to advice from childhood coaches — Sandvall played for the national youth hockey team — and popular reality television shows, Sandvall impressed the crowd of several dozen donors with a message aimed at trimming government and putting regular folks in charge.
“Our city government has become that 500-pound contestant on The Biggest Loser,” he said. “We have made some bad choices, some unhealthy choices, for the city.”
He took aim at the massive tax subsidies the city is considering using to lure an $800 million resort and convention center proposed by Gaylord Entertainment on city land near Denver International Airport.
“It’s a bad deal, it’s a bad business decision for the city,” Sandvall said.
He said he’s not opposed to using tax-increment financing but thinks it should be confined to encouraging businesses to fix up blighted properties within the city instead of luring corporations to the prairie.
“We can’t deny as a city we’re competing with other cities,” Sandvall said. “But we shouldn’t be competing in the sense of trying to offer mass subsidies to bring one single business to our city. Instead, we should be competing to create an environment that is conducive to every single business in our city.”
Maria Faber, chief fundraiser for Jude Sandvall’s mayoral campaign, visits with Arapahoe County Tea Party organizer Regina Thomson after a luncheon for the candidate on Aug. 10 at Cool River Café in Greenwood Village.
He also slammed the city’s voter-approved police staffing mandate and said he would back repealing the sales-tax bump that pays some of the cost of hiring two officers for every 1,000 residents. The statutory formula is making the city less safe because it’s tying the hands of the police chief when it comes to making staffing and spending decisions, Sandvall said.
The city council is considering asking voters this fall whether to increase taxes to pay for the requirement or abandon it — and the earmarked revenue — altogether.
In order to tackle the city’s persistent budget woes, Sandvall proposes applying an efficiency and performance review technique that he said has yielded astonishing results back East — he touts a book called Driving Excellence, which chronicles savings achieved by the Rochester, N.Y., transit authority using the method — and helped Arapahoe County avoid some of the budget pain afflicting other local governments in recent years.
Sandvall hopes to ride a wave of voter unrest to the helm of the state’s third-largest city.
“What I’m finding mostly is most people feel there is a disconnect — at all levels of government — between what’s going on and what they feel is important,” Sandvall told The Colorado Statesman this week.
He discounted the results of a poll released by Frazier’s campaign earlier this month that showed him with the support of 4 percent of those surveyed. Frazier led the survey, conducted by Louisville-based Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies, with 27 percent support, followed by Hogan at 14 percent and Stafford with 11 percent. The robo-poll surveyed 642 voters and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.84 percent, according to the pollsters.
“My only polling is door to door,” he said. “The people I talk to are very open to voting for me, the majority of them.”
He says his campaign has knocked on more than 10,000 doors in the six months since he entered the race, including visits all across the city of 325,000. Roughly 42,000 ballots were cast in the 2003 Aurora mayoral election, the last time the seat was open, though that time they were only split between three candidates, each of whom had previously won city- or county-wide.
This year’s all-mail election could drive up turnout, but Sandvall supporters also note that the sparse ballot’s other choices — including a statewide measure to increase income and sales taxes and possible city questions on sales and property tax hikes — are the kind of issues that motivate potential Sandvall supporters to vote.
“I think we need more people with business experience in government,” said former Arapahoe County Republican Party chair Lynne Cottrell, an enthusiastic supporter who attended the Sandvall fundraiser along with her husband, Bo, who is also a former chair of the county GOP. “We don’t have enough of them, we have too many professional politicians, they just get entrenched in government and those principles aren’t working.”