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Omar Montgomery Running for Mayor in Aurora, Colorado

May 13, 2019

Omar Montgomery (left, gesturing with his hand) speaking to taxi cab drivers between shifts at D.I.A. – overwhelmingly immigrants, from the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan) with a good number of Moroccans and Iraqis to boot. The election is on November 5, 2019.

I saw it with my own eyes – how comfortable, relaxed how he connected with taxi drivers, overwhelmingly immigrants from the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. And they reciprocated. There was real dialogue – not the contrived, controlled pablum that passes for politics as usual in Colorado and nationwide.

And it will be one of the most important political races in the country this coming November – the contest for mayor in Aurora, Colorado.

Omar Montgomery, University of Colorado – Denver professor and Afro-American Student Adviser, chair of the Aurora, Colorado NAACP Chapter is running for mayor in Aurora, Colorado, Colorado’s third largest city (after Denver, Colorado Springs) and the home of the state’s greatest ethnic, religious and racial diversity, a stronghold of Colorado immigrants priced out of Denver due to soaring rental and home purchase costs.

With a few others, I was a part of a group that accompanied Montgomery to a large parking area near a local taxi stand just prior to and after a shift change.  Although frankly, Montgomery doesn’t need introductions, we were there to introduce Montgomery to them., an Ethiopian member of his team, Amharic speaking, Ambay Tessema, another, Montgomery’s campaign manager, Michael Himawan and me (for no good reason).

Many of the drivers coming and going came from the Horn of Africa – Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, South Sudanese with some Iraqis and Moroccans thrown in for good measure. What I was looking at was the changing nature of Colorado’s – if not the country’s – working class – Brown and Black immigrants. Back in their home countries, many of them – most of those I spoke with were doctors, engineers, high level and highly skilled  professionals. Here they drive taxis in a fierce national competition with Lyft, Uber. One Somali – an engineer back in Mogadishu – but has driven a cab for more than 25 years in Denver, proudly told me how his daughter had just been accepted to Harvard, joining his son in Massachusetts already studying engineering at M.I.T.

At first a bit shy and tentative as we went from table to table, bench to bench, after a short time, groups of people – mostly Horn of African-ers were approaching us. Many took literature, but most – that is to say – the overwhelming number we spoke with, spoke with us easily, opening about their concerns. Several expressed their surprise and appreciation. “Politicians never come here – you are the first, several said.” Others asked, quite reasonably “how do we know if you will keep your promises? American politicians are known for forgetting their campaign promises.”

To his credit, Omar Montgomery did more listening than lecturing.

As they lost their shyness and inhibitions, the issues that concerned the drivers came pouring out. The main job issue, repeated by one and all – taxi drivers are highly regulated while Uber and Lyft are not, giving the latter an unfair advantage. How would Montgomery “level the playing field,” they asked. Many also spoke about the housing crisis, the punishingly high rents and burgeoning home real estate costs, pricing many of them out of Denver and into Aurora. Finally there were a number of them that spoke of the poor quality of public education in Aurora, asking how it might be improved.

While Omar Montgomery’s support among immigrants and people of color is, from where I am sitting, solidifying – his taxi stand visit a classic example, his campaign’s challenge now is to build support among Aurora still substantial largely white population – the same ones enough of whom – elected and re-elected Coffman to the U.S. Congress. If his campaign can cut into split that vote he could and should win the mayoral race. Focusing on issues affecting peoples’ lives – housing costs, healthcare, jobs programs, quality public education and the environment, cutting military spending nationally to release more funds for cities seem to be the key.

Mike Coffman’s strategy – playing the race card by hiding behind crime fighting…

Omar Montgomery is running against a number of candidates, but more than likely his main challenge will come from right-wing Republican, Mike Coffman. Coffman, whose anti-immigration policies, he himself defines as “to the right of Donald Trump,’ was one of the most reactionary members of the U.S. Congress, consistently voting for ever increasingly bloated military budgets, cuts in social spending, veterans programs, etc. In the past Coffman – who is no fool by the way even if he is to the right of Attila the Hun – was able to defeat two strong Democratic challengers in the past – Andrew Romanoff (now running for the U.S. Senate against another arch-conservative Cory Gardner) and Morgan Carroll, who went on to become the state’s Democratic Party chair.

One element in the defeat of Romanoff and Carroll was the state (and national) Democratic Party’s failure to work more closely with Colorado’s immigrant communities. Although both candidates understood this (particularly Carroll), there was little actual organizing among Aurora’s burgeoning immigrant population. While the Democrats were ignoring – or giving little attention to – Aurora immigrants, Coffman was working these communities hard, and the results paid off. As one young Democrat of Ethiopian background noted, “most of us are Democrats, but the party only comes around during election time and then they disappear.

To the contrary, say what you might about Mike Coffman – I have no use for his politics at all – but where it came to two immigrant constituencies – the Ethiopian and Central American communities, Coffman did his homework and was there. I am told he even learned to speak Spanish. His methodology concerning both communities was similar: get to know the religious leaders, who tend to tell their parishioners for whom to vote. He also actually dealt with many immigrants personal problems and did so effectively. In so doing, he help craft Trump’s anti-immigrant legislation and policies. closing loopholes, using the knowledge he had gleaned from helping people personally to restrict their immigration rights more broadly.

Expect that after the run-off for Denver mayor ends in early June that the state’s media attention will focus on the up-coming Aurora mayoral contest which I anticipate will be yet another down and dirty affair. While it would be surprising if Coffman openly campaigns on an anti-immigrant platform in immigrant saturated Aurora – he is too clever for that – there are other ways to sugar coat his essentially racist approach – the war on drugs, crime, ie, the old tactic of scaring white voters. Fear – and Republican donor millions will be at the heart of his campaign. His path to power is divide and conquer, trying to split the electorate along racial lines (besides whatever dirt the Republicans can dig up and throw at Montgomery).

Several younger Ethiopian friends noted to me that the congressional polls often seriously under-counted immigrant voting patterns. In part this explains why, in the case of both Romanoff and Carroll, the polls just on the eve of the elections suggested either a tight race, or with the Dem candidate slightly ahead. But then the votes came in – twice mind you – and Coffman won. Coffman definitely benefited from Democratic party neglect.

That appears to be changing, the first sign of which was Coffman’s defeat by moderate Democrat, Jason Crow, in November 2018 when he lost his congressional seat. Will it continue with Omar Montgomery’s effort to win the Aurora mayoral contest in November? Not long after losing, Coffman threw his hat into the ring, running for Aurora mayor. He will not be an easy candidate to beat but along with his greater name recognition comes no small amount of notoriety. For many Omar Montgomery spoke with, mentioning Coffman’s name drew comments like “Oh yes, we know him – and we have to work to defeat him” or “Not Coffman again – we must work to defeat him.” 

One Comment leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    May 14, 2019 7:01 am

    Quite interesting. I taught middle school and high school in Aurora almost 50 years ago. It seems like there has been massive change!

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