Aurora police, fire unions: Tough election rhetoric sent a message to City Council

AURORA | Despite being subject to one of the most-aggressive political efforts to oust an Aurora City Council member in decades, Bob LeGare handily won re-election to an at-large seat earlier this month.

Bob LeGare, incumbent at-large council member, smiles as he talks on the phone shortly after finding out that he was in the lead for the at-large seat on Tuesday Nov. 03, 2015 at Aurora Municipal Center. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel“I think it was a stupid approach,” said LeGare, who attributes that victory, in part, to the city’s police and fire unions’ campaign against him, which accused him of being soft on public safety. “I gathered what they were trying to do is send a message to other council members.”

Aurora Police Sgt. Bob Wesner, president of the Aurora Police Association, agreed with LeGare about one thing: The union was sending a message to council members. And the message was the first of its kind for Aurora Police, according to Wesner.

“The message is if you’re against public safety, we’re not going to support you and we’re going to be outspoken about that,” Wesner said.

Wesner said this year, the APA spent five times more than it has on any Aurora election though he would not give a specific dollar amount.

“We didn’t spend near enough money, because he won,” Wesner said of LeGare’s substantial victory, which followed Angela Lawson in total votes for the at-large seat at over 20,000. “We look forward to working with him, but he can anticipate more campaigns if he continues to be negative about public safety.”

Wesner disagreed with LeGare that the APA campaign was unsuccessful. He points to Angela Lawson — one of the candidates endorsed by the APA — receiving the most votes of any at-large candidate despite raising far less money (little more than $6,000) than the two incumbents. Both LeGare and Hunter Holen amassed more than $30,000 in campaign contributions this election cycle.

“I’m sure a segment of the community were upset, but a majority weren’t. They showed that in electing Angela Lawson over him (Bob LeGare),” Wesner said.

He also pointed to the APA-endorsed candidates winning in all of the other races in this year’s local election. 

Norman Provizer, a political science professor with Metropolitan State University of Denver, said though the power of unions in national and local elections has declined significantly since the number of unions have decreased in the private sector, where they still matter is in the public sector.

And where unions still matter, he said, is not so much in how much money they contribute, but in their ability to organize support and encourage voters to support a particular candidate.

He also agreed with LeGare that the controversial nature of the police union ads could have given the councilman’s campaign extra padding. 

“One of the great drivers for turnout is controversy,” Provizer said. “If you have something that’s controversial on the ballot, that tends to drive turnout.”

Wesner said the union opposed LeGare because he has long been a critic of Aurora’s voter-approved hiring mandates that forced the city to staff 2 police officers for every 1,000 residents. City council, with the APA’s support, pulled back the 2-per-1,000 requirement in 2011, but Wesner said LeGare still opposes the new mandate of about 1.8 officers per 1,000.

LeGare contended throughout his campaign that he supports more officers working the street, but doesn’t think hiring more police is the most-efficient way to do that. Instead, LeGare said, Aurora could move officers from desk jobs or from working security at city hall and put them on patrol. Then, the city could hire less-expensive, non-commissioned city staff to fill those non-patrol roles.

LeGare said he and the fire union have disagreed on how to deal with a spike in calls for service, particularly medical calls. While the union says in their fliers they want five new fire stations, 200 more firefighters and several pieces of equipment, LeGare said there is a more-efficient solution.

Instead of using fully staffed fire trucks for medical calls, LeGare said the city should rely more heavily on smaller vehicles with just two firefighters for many calls that don’t require a full-blown response, such as elderly people who fall in their homes or people too sick to get themselves to a doctor or hospital.

LeGare agreed with Wesner that union endorsements are still important in city council races.

“I think they (matter) from the standpoint their endorsements are still coveted,” he said. “Council members don’t want to be on the unfriendly side of the labor unions. They want to be loved. All elected officials like people to like them.”

— Aurora Sentinel Reporter Brandon Johansson contributed to this story.