How Not to Pick Aurora's Mayor

While the race for mayor of Aurora is basically among various flavors of Republicans, including one convert to the party and one defector from it, the race is not your father's GOP primary.
07/20/2011 11:21 am ET Updated Sep 19, 2011

While local races outside Denver rarely garner much media attention, a recent analysis of the mayoral race in Aurora, Colorado, published by Colorado Peak Politics, drew my attention.

CPP's take, in a nutshell: while the race for mayor of Aurora is basically among various flavors of Republicans, including one convert to the party and one defector from it, the race is not your father's GOP primary, "establishment vs. grassroots" as CPP aptly puts it. Instead, the race is really between the "old guard" and the "new guard." Here, CPP gets it right.

Where things get complicated, however, is distinguishing new from old in an era when the GOP is just now recovering from the bloodletting of last year's gubernatorial disaster, resulting in Democrat John Hickenlooper taking the contest easily and leaving GOP insiders to wonder who was left on the bench for the next go around.

This Aurora race may just have some contenders. As CPP acknowledges, three solid candidates have jumped in. Steve Hogan, the Democrat-turned-Republican, is a 24-year veteran of the Aurora City Council. He failed twice in runs for Congress (as a Democrat) but has hired a solid team of veteran GOP operatives for this run, garnering the endorsements of some former conservative superstars such as Governor Bill Owens.

Next up is Ryan Frazier, a friend of mine and also an Aurora City Council vet who most recently ran for U.S. Senate, then Congress, in 2010.

And then there is Jude Sandvall, also a friend of mine and a young private-sector entrepreneur who has never before held any public office, and whom CPP correctly dubs "a great guy with solid conservative principles" who "would make a good mayor."

Both Frazier and Sandvall have enough insider experience to be considered "old guard" (Sandvall also ran unsuccessfully for office as a candidate for RTD's board), but unlike Hogan they both also have enough passion and youth to be the poster child for new leadership.

Interestingly, CPP paints things differently, picking Frazier as the uniquely fresh face, or "new guard," and tagging Sandvall as just another establishment candidate. No matter how much one might like Frazier, however, and I do like him, that's not a fair or objective analysis. Sandvall is certainly less known than Frazier, but if anything that makes him an even fresher face and an even newer guard.

Reared in the Midwest by a union electrician father and a homemaker mother, Sandvall moved to Colorado because hard work paid off. His ice hockey prowess landed him a scholarship at DU. When that scholarship ran out and he could no longer afford DU, he didn't give up. He transferred to Metro State and worked night shifts to finish his economics degree.

Sandvall then rose through the ranks of a small business, starting at the bottom and learning firsthand on the way up what it means to create and to preserve jobs, and to have "P&L" responsibility. Because he has never held a government job, he has never counted on taxpayers to pay his salary or his pension.

I would be surprised if Sandvall comes to be regarded as the slickest candidate in this race, but slick seems to be wearing thin with Colorado voters. None of the new statewide officials we elected in 2010 -- neither Hickenlooper, nor Treasurer Walker Stapleton or Secretary of State Scott Gessler, both Republicans -- could be described as slick. And Denver's new mayor, Michael Hancock, won his 2011 election by beating the gladhanding and gregarious insider Chris Romer in a landslide that shocked the political establishment. So much for slick.

Perhaps that is where CPP and I agree, both empirically and philosophically. Voters want and deserve genuinely new leadership, not just another round of politicians who act like the ones who got us into our ongoing local and national fiscal turmoil.

Where we disagree, apparently, is whether to cut Jude Sandvall from the list of rising stars in this new environment. In my view, it's far too soon to do that.