Throughout, Rivera’s explanations often changed when it came to specifics. But his general response was the same: Denial of wrongdoing.
Even as polls showed he was in danger of losing, Rivera’s opponents and supporters thought he could still pull out a win or was at least dangerous.
“I feel like I’m chasing a ghost,” Jeff Garcia, campaign manager for Joe Garcia, repeatedly said, summing up the difficulties of dealing with the hard-to-hit Rivera.
“Never count out David Rivera,” said Rick Wilson, a Tallahassee Republican consultant.
Rivera planned to run for Miami-Dade Republican chairman last month, but fellow Republicans balked.
The chairmanship was won, instead, by Nelson Diaz, a friend of Rivera’s who declined to comment about the discussions they had concerning the party post. Diaz said Rivera is not just liked, “he’s loved” by many for his generosity, accessibility and hard-work ethic.
“As a member of Congress, David comes to all the party meetings,” Diaz said. “He’ll return anyone’s call; it doesn’t matter who you are.”
That was true of constituents as well. Rivera was well-known for solid citizen services as both a legislator and congressman.
Diaz said Rivera was particularly proud of helping fund a new medical school for Florida International University, his alma mater, when he served as Florida House budget chairman from 2009-2010. Rivera held the post under former House speakers Ray Sansom and Larry Cretul, both of whom Rivera helped install. Prior to that, Rivera served as Rules Committee chairman when Rubio served as Florida House speaker from 2007-2008 and helped keep fellow Republicans in line when Rubio clashed with then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Rivera was a solid critic of the Castro regime and, as a state lawmaker, passed legislation to keep state money directly or indirectly from flowing to Cuba.
Other accomplishments Rivera listed: Port of Miami Tunnel, Anti-cyber stalking legislation, Insurance Bill of Rights, 826/836 Interchange, Sales tax holidays, 25th Street Doral Viaduct, protecting Florida taxpayer dollars from being used by universities to flow to terrorist countries like Cuba, working on passage of Colombia Free Trade Agreement, pushing the immigration debate forward with STARS and ARMS bills, fighting to protect American taxpayer dollars through federal procurement from benefiting companies that do business with terrorist countries like Cuba.
During Rivera’s ascent in the Legislature, he avoided serious competition scrutiny.
That changed when Rivera ran for Congress in 2010 against two Republican opponents willing to dredge up a 1994 domestic-violence restraining order filed by a woman named Jenia Dorticos against David M. Rivera. Rivera, whose middle name is Mauricio, had survived an attack ad about the petition during his first state legislative campaign, in 2002.
In 2010, Rivera denied he was the man named in the petition. By then, the court file had been destroyed. He also denied knowing Dorticos, whose mother once worked on one of Rivera’s campaigns. And Dorticos, who now lives in New York, told the Herald she didn’t know the lawmaker. But Rivera’s 2002 campaign used Dorticos in a response flier in which she said “David Rivera has never harmed me! NEVER!”