My friends remember in 2009 when I supported Senator Michael Bennet in his bid to run for the United States Senate. At that time, he was an unpopular candidate among Colorado Democrats because he was appointed by then Governor Bill Ritter, rather then elected by a vote of the people. Ritter bypassed Colorado Democratic hometown hero Andrew Romanoff to appoint the Denver Public Schools Superintendent. As most readers will recall, a bitterly divided primary ensued when Andrew Romanoff threw his hat into the race against incumbent Bennet. As a neighborhood leader, I chose to stand with my Senator (who was later elected democratically for a second term). At that time, I felt, as many other Coloradans also did, that it was important to support the Democratic Senator we already had, and to work with him to get things done. Four years later, I am proud to stand with both Senator Michael Bennet, and Congressional District 6's Candidate for the United States Congress, Andrew Romanoff.
Many of the most densely populated portions of Congressional District 6 lie within the city of Aurora. My family and I moved near Mike Coffman's neighborhood in Aurora, CO 23 years ago from the midwestern college town where my husband received his PhD. When we moved into our first home, a rental, I was stunned by the six foot wooden fences, the prevailing libertarian attitudes of the high planes, and the lack of support for worker's rights. It was a foreign landscape for a young wife from a working class neighborhood just outside of Detroit. We had moved from an international student community (similar to DU in some respects), where I organized weekly family shared meals with my neighbors from Japan, Israel, Korea, Russia, Jordan, Mexico, Thailand, Finland and many other places, as well as a babysitting co-op for new moms. My toddler son had already been exposed to hundreds of different languages in that college (bubble) community, and though we could not afford to travel (we could barely afford to eat), every conversation was a lesson in geography and culture.
When we arrived in southeast Aurora, the first neighbor I saw simply said, "Keep your kid away from the fence. My dog hates kids and will eat him."
I called my mother sobbing. "Mom, have you seen the movie 'Dances With Wolves?", I asked.
To which she replied, "Yes. Why?"
"That's where I moohoohooved!", I wailed into the phone.
In the months to come, I was greeted with political notes on my doorstep inviting me to protest the local high school health care clinic (they gave students resource information for contraception), and I was told by a neighbor that Democrats insert tiny computer chips into infant babies' scalps at the hospital to control their every move. I was asked over and over, "Are you coastal?", which to the non-Republican translated means, "You're not liberal, are you?"
Even the synagogue we attended in Denver had some right-wing members living in the 'burbs who tried to persuade us to join their ranks — a very unusual experience considering it was as true then, as it is now, that more than 2 out of 3 Jews nationwide are Democrats. I felt like I landed on Mars. Many of the hard-working, politically-moderate neighbors we came to know were simply not interested in politics, and truth be told, as a young mother, I had no time for it either. Over the years, our Congressman Dan Schaefer handed the baton to nationally-known immigrant-hater, Congressman Tom Tancredo, who loved his job so much he wouldn't leave it for five terms!
Fast forward 23 years, two more children, and two house moves later, and we live about three miles south of that first rental home. We grew to understand the ways of the west — from planning one's weekly calendar around Broncos games, to taking time off work to see the National Western Stock Show Parade. We came to love the SE Aurora/ E. Centennial area so much, we have made it our forever home. The six foot high wooden fences took some getting used to, but I found people are really very similar all over the world.. Our first neighborhood was receptive to my babysitting co-op idea, as well as organized play dates, and shared meals for new moms. The Cherry Creek schools our sons grew up in and where I volunteered often were, and are, outstanding. The Parks and Recreation programs in Aurora are among the best in the country. More than that, my family and I ventured out to the rest of Aurora, where we found the diversity we loved — and so dearly missed.
Aurora is now Colorado's most richly diverse city, with more than 80 ethnic restaurants and markets, and more than 90 languages spoken in its public schools (much to Tom Tancredo's frustration, I'm sure). In a single afternoon at the Central library, one can hear dozens of languages spoken, from Russian, to Ethiopian, Chinese, Korean, African, Somalian, Nigerian, Spanish, French, etc. In the summer months, the Aurora Arts Festival and Cultural Events make it one of the most exciting places to be in metro Denver. If you listen to the stories of Aurorans, you will learn they came to America for good schools, for an opportunity to make life better for one's family, and to become an American citizen in order to pursue the American Dream. They want what Coloradans have wanted for hundreds of years — a peaceful place to raise their children, a chance to work hard and make a fair wage, and a sense of community alongside other Coloradans from all over the nation, and all over the globe.
The dreams of the newly-arrived immigrants in Aurora are identical to the dreams of my ancestors who arrived to this country in previous centuries. The only difference is, many of the newer immigrants dress in orange and blue jerseys, wear cowboy hats, and love to watch American Idol-type programs on television. The old Aurora, Mike Coffman's Aurora, contributes its western charm and historic cowboy heritage with the New Aurora, to create a uniquely Colorado experience.
In 2008, as Colorado's Secretary of State, Mike Coffman attempted to shut-down the dreams of immigrant families and people of color in Aurora when he purged countless new voter registrations, most of which were collected by liberal out-of-state groups assisting in the Obama campaign effort. Coffman knew the groups like Mi Familia Vota, Common Cause, SEIU, MoveOn.org, etc., were targeting people of color and new citizens in Aurora to register them to vote, and he wanted their voices stopped so badly, his office gave inconsistent instructions on how to fill out the forms (I know this because I led a team of voter registrars in Aurora that summer, and they personally gave me incorrect information a number of times). Coffman had the audacity to continue to purge those registrations even after he was ordered not to do so by a federal judge.
Andrew Romanoff understands the New Aurora. Andrew's grandparents were Russian-Jewish immigrants who worked hard to make sure their children and grandchildren could go to college. Andrew seldom boasts about his most-inspiring qualifications for the United States Congress — working with communities the world over to accomplish truly impressive goals through democratic means. Andrew Romanoff has shown visionary leadership not just influence (as Coffman had done) — he brought together Democrats and Republicans to repair Colorado's schools, wrote laws to protect women from domestic violence, focused on services for mental health care, and expanded affordable housing. Andrew fought to protect children and the elderly from neglect and abuse, and taught high school students in rural Central America. He worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center for civil rights, and fought for low-income women's equal pay and education. At IDE (International Development Enterprises), Andrew led efforts to teach people to start businesses and become successful farmers — giving people a hand-up rather than a hand-out. Andrew's efforts have been recognized all over the world as ideas that will work anywhere, including in Aurora, CO.
All Aurorans share another, sadder common experience. Aurorans came together from every neighborhood of its 143 square miles to comfort each other after the Century Theater Shooting. Many volunteers spent last summer visiting the make-shift Aurora memorial site comforting strangers, cleaning up broken glass, providing water bottles, and pruning flowers left in memory of the victims – myself included. We made thousands of tiny black and blue memorial ribbons and passed them out to the grieving and the curious. Among the leaders who became most involved in the healing was Representative Rhonda Fields, who became the voice for many survivors wishing to make all of Colorado's City streets safer. Rhonda faced obscene name-calling, death threats, personal attacks and political savagery for insisting on common-sense gun restrictions. Who stood with Aurora's beloved Representative Rhonda Fields and the majority of Aurorans? It wasn't Congressman Mike Coffman. He was nowhere to be found in protecting Colorado's cities and towns from overly-lax weapon regulations. The person who stood up for Rhonda and all of Aurora was Andrew Romanoff.
There is only one candidate in the race for Congressional District 6 understands the blending of New Aurora with Old Aurora to become Strong Aurora. There is only one person who understand the modern challenges Aurorans face as their city increasingly becomes one of the New West's most interesting destinations. That person is Andrew Romanoff.
Please help us this summer in registering new voters in diverse North Aurora. Aurorans of every color, of every language, of every nation of origin, deserve to have their voices restored — voices stolen from them at one time by former Secretary of State Mike Coffman. When Aurorans vote, they will remember what happened in 2008 and they will vote for Andrew Romanoff.