The Miami Herald

Dems rip Rep. David Rivera — then each other

The Democrats running to unseat Republican Congressman David Rivera ripped the scandal-plagued incumbent on Tuesday.

But they also turned on each other.

Candidate Gustavo Marin, of Perrine, suggested that fellow Democrats Joe Garcia and Gloria Romero-Roses were “butterflies and carpetbaggers” because they didn’t live in the newly drawn Kendall-to-Key West district.

But the real tensions came at the end of the Miami Herald editorial board interview Tuesday when Garcia and Romero-Roses rehashed the substance of their attack-ad mailers.

Garcia, a lawyer, suggested Romero-Roses, a businesswoman, was anti-labor. He pointed out that she worked for a company that managed employees at Miami Beach’s Sunset Harbor South condominium, which was at the center of a Services Employee International Union dispute.

“When you have a woman that has three children, is making minimum wage and asks for healthcare and can’t get it and gets fired because of it, that’s not right,” Garcia said. “And that is a place where we disagree. We have serious value differences.”

Romero-Roses shot back that Garcia had “mischaracterized” her actions and took a “cheap shot.” She said she had nothing to do with the dispute in which the National Labor Relations Board rapped the company for violating the National Labor Relations Act.

“When I was employed by the Continental Group, my role was to make sure employees had access — full access — to their health insurance, as well as their 401(k) plan,” Romero Roses said. “And what he is referring to, occurred at an NLRB finding in 2004 before I was even employed by the company.”

Garcia, in turn, took issue with Romero-Roses for linking him to failed energy giant Enron.

“I’m reading Republican attacks from two and four years ago being rehashed by Democrats,” Garcia said. “I don’t think it does us any good.”

While the Democrats disagree on who’s best to face Rivera, each say any of them is better than the incumbent Republican. They all agree that tax cuts for oil and pharmaceutical companies should expire along with the so-called “Bush tax cuts” on those earning more than $250,000 annually.

Rivera narrowly avoided up to 52 state charges stemming from his apparent personal use of political campaign money.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office, which began investigating Rivera over a secret $500,000 dog-track contract, declined to charge the Republican because the law was ambiguous in some cases and in other cases the statute of limitations for his alleged crimes had expired.

But Rivera still faces a federal investigation, which isn’t expected to be wrapped up before the November general elections.

“Rivera doesn’t have to be criticized,” said Marin, a consultant and businessman. “He’s totally a corrupt politician that will end up where he should be ending up, eventually, if justice really works. Justice hasn’t worked at the state level apparently yet. I hope it does work at the federal level.”

Rivera, in a written statement, noted that Garcia was called an "opportunist" by Romero-Roses, who was accused of "lying" by Garcia.

"They’re both right," Rivera wrote. "And while Democrats keep trying to distract attention from Barack Obama’s failed economic policies with their mudslinging, Congressman Rivera will as always remain focused on improving the economy and creating jobs."

Despite his legal problems and discrepancies with his financial disclosure forms, Rivera is still widely viewed as tough to beat in the new district.

But, unlike Rivera’s old congressional seat, the District 26 includes liberal-leaning Monroe County. It’s almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, though Republican Gov. Rick Scott and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain narrowly beat their Democratic rivals in their respective elections.

The Democratic Party has promised to help whichever Democrat survives the Aug. 14 primary, but the party has already made a mess of the race. Its original candidate, state Rep. Luis Garcia, was undermined by party elders who tried to recruit another candidate, former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas who ultimately didn’t run.

Garcia quit the race to run for county commission, paving the way for Joe Garcia and Romero-Roses.

“I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat,” joked Joe Garcia, who unsuccessfully ran against Rivera in 2010 and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in 2008. Garcia said some party officials asked him to run again.

Garcia spoke favorably of Luis Garcia, while Romero-Roses said she and other Democrats were “frustrated” by his campaign. Romero-Roses said she was “encouraged” by failed 2010 governor candidate Alex Sink and failed 2004 Senate candidate Betty Castor to run for the seat.

Said Marin: “I was not recruited by the party. I sometimes wonder if there is a party, quite frankly.”

Marin, who has the least money of the Democratic candidates, said he was the only candidate in the race who isn’t taking “special-interest” money. A fourth Democrat, Lamar Sternad, isn’t fundraising much, either, and was a no-show Tuesday.

Marin dwelled more on his outsider status. Romero-Roses repeatedly mentioned the need to make the wealthy, herself included, pay their “fair share” in taxes. And Garcia repeatedly talked about foreclosures and helping homeowners who need help refinancing their mortgages.

“Congress needs to do something aggressive because I don’t think the executive [branch] has done enough nor has the power to do it,” he said, noting that in some areas of the district, “every fifth home is in foreclosure.”

Garcia’s Miami Beach home isn’t in the district, but he said he has lived and worked there and would move to there if elected — even though federal law doesn’t require it. Rivera doesn’t live in the district. Romero-Roses said she might move from Southwest Ranches. But she might not.

“I don’t know what the future might hold,” she said.

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