The Miami-Dade mayor’s race, which had recently gotten a dose of intrigue over an absentee-ballot fraud investigation, ended without any mystery Tuesday night when Mayor Carlos Gimenez cruised to victory.
But his chief rival, County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, wouldn’t give in.
Martinez refused to concede late Tuesday despite returns that showed Gimenez winning by nearly 25 percentage points, with all precincts reporting.
Gimenez, apparently awaiting a Martinez concession, delayed his appearance at a campaign rally, even though results showed he had won the election outright, without requiring a runoff. Gimenez won just over 54 percent of the vote, compared to Martinez’s 31 percent.
“I’m very honored to have been given this vote of confidence by the people of Miami-Dade County,” Gimenez said in an interview late Tuesday night.
Of Martinez’s refusal to concede, Gimenez said, “I think it’s up to him. I think this is a pretty resounding victory. I would hope that he would [concede] and we would move forward as a community.”
The nonpartisan race, the most prominent county contest, was overshadowed over the past two weeks by the voter-fraud probe that indirectly brushed Gimenez, the state attorney and a county commissioner. But the probe appeared to do little to hurt Gimenez at the polls.
Gimenez’s victory gives him a mandate to continue the philosophy he followed over the past year, in which he shrank the county budget, got commissioners to approve lowering the property-tax rate by 2 percent this year and nearly 12 percent last year, and reorganized the county bureaucracy, reducing the number of departments to 25 from 42.
Gimenez, then a county commissioner, was elected last year to complete the term of Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who was recalled by a frustrated electorate seeking a new direction at County Hall. Gimenez’s first year as mayor amounted to a tryout for voters to judge him on at the polls Tuesday.
“In the first year there were some big changes,” Gimenez said Tuesday morning after he voted just outside Coral Gables. “Now we have to carry through those changes. We have to follow through on the reorganization. My big priority is going to be job creation and diversifying the economy.”
Five other candidates drew scant votes in the race. Helen Barbary Williams, who opposed former Mayor Alvarez in 2008, drew 6 percent of the vote. None of the other candidates reached that threshold.
The results will be made official Friday. Turnout, at 19.52 percent, was slightly higher than at last year’s three special elections — the Alvarez recall, a first-round mayoral election and a mayoral runoff — which hovered between 16 percent and 17.3 percent.
Martinez campaigned from the commission dais. But outside of the West Miami-Dade district he represented for 12 years, he had relatively low name recognition — and only limited funds to buy advertising. Gimenez, by comparison, ran an advertising juggernaut, with radio and television spots in English and Spanish, a slew of mailers and at least two electronic billboards.
Though he was far behind, Martinez refused to concede the election late Tuesday, telling more than 100 supporters packed at the 94th Aero Squadron restaurant by Miami International Airport that he was “still in this race.”