Mike Coffman's First Priority as Aurora Mayor Will Be Elijah McClain Case

Mike Coffman will be sworn in as Aurora mayor in December.EXPAND
Mike Coffman will be sworn in as Aurora mayor in December.
Courtesy of Mike Coffman

Mike Coffman has won the Aurora mayoral race, according to final unofficial results. The former Republican congressman is up by 273 votes over Democrat Omar Montgomery.

An automatic recount would only happen if the gap narrowed to 131 votes or less. In the coming days, the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder's Office will cure 1,000 ballots that need to be re-signed by voters; some of those are from Aurora.

Coffman is already thinking about his priorities, the first of which will be handling the case of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed African-American man who died while in police custody in August.

"Hopefully between now and when I get sworn in on December 2, I'll have access to information concerning the case," Coffman says. "I think it’s important to get down to the bottom of it."

On the night of August 24, the Aurora Police Department responded to a 911 call regarding a man wearing a ski mask walking on Billings Street near East Colfax Avenue. According to APD, officers contacted McClain, who began resisting. A struggle took place, and McClain was taken into custody.

While he was in custody, the Aurora Fire Rescue gave McClain ketamine to calm him down. He went into cardiac arrest and died at a local hospital days later.

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After viewing body-camera footage of the incident, members of McClain's family say police tortured and murdered Elijah, who had never had issues with law enforcement before. His death is being investigated by the Denver and Aurora police departments and the 17th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

McClain's death has caused a major political and social rift in Aurora. Community members and protesters have demanded more answers and accountability regarding his death at city council meetings.

Law enforcement issues will be front and center for Coffman in the coming weeks. He will soon pick a new chief of police after Nick Metz, who has served as the head of the department since 2015, announced he is retiring at year's end. (Metz will be replaced by deputy chief Paul O'Keefe on an interim basis.)

"One of the characteristics that I most admired of Chief Metz was his outreach abilities into minority and immigrant communities in the city. I think that’s been very, very important," Coffman explains. "I think we need somebody like Chief Metz in terms of having that ability."

Coffman says that the future police chief will, like Metz, not enforce immigration law by requesting someone's immigration status or turning over a detainee to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"That is the federal role to enforce immigration laws," Coffman says. "Aurora hasn’t done it, and shouldn’t do it going forward."

But, he says, the Aurora Detention Center, which can hold detainees for up to 72 hours, "should cooperate with ICE when it comes to turning over individuals who have been apprehended for violating [more] than immigration laws."

"I think the city has struck the right balance in terms of immigration policy, and that is that we are not engaged in enforcement," he continues. "But when ICE does request somebody who has been detained by us, [it can come and pick that person up]."

Coffman's long-term goals include adding more jobs in Aurora so residents can work where they live instead of commuting to Denver. "Aurora is simply too large to continue to be a classic suburban bedroom community. It’s the 56th-largest community in America," says Coffman. "I want to focus going forward less on residential and more on creating primary jobs that pay a living wage within the city, where people have much shorter commutes."

He says he expects that the large local immigrant community will add to the city's small businesses.

"Aurora's diversity is its strength. There’s so much entrepreneurial energy. Their version of the American dream is to own their own small business," he says of local immigrants. "I want to help them accomplish that."

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