Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz looks ready to run for governor and has spent the past three weeks lining up support from strategists, financiers and elected officials.
Diaz, who hasn't taken calls from The Miami Herald for three weeks about his plans, finally returned a text message on Friday and said he wasn't ready to speak about the matter, in part because he was attending a charity golf tournament.
Diaz met Friday morning with top Democratic strategist Jeff Garcia, who said he'd like the former mayor to run.
"His potential candidacy presents a unique opportunity for Democrats and Floridians to take the state in a completely new and positive direction," said Garcia, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia's chief of staff who met Friday morning with Diaz. "I'm excited he's considering running. It adds something new and fresh to the field."
Diaz, mayor from 2001-2009, would be the only Democratic Hispanic candidate among those who have announced or are considering a bid to challenge Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, helped President Obama win his reelection campaign in Florida.
If elected, Diaz would be the first Democratic Hispanic governor. The state's first Hispanic governor was a Republican, Bob Martinez, from 1987-1991.
Diaz has made no formal announcement for the election, which is still nearly two years away.
Former Democratic state Senate leader Nan Rich, of Weston, has announced her intention to run. Former state CFO and the last Democratic governor's candidate, Alex Sink, is mulling a run as is former Gov. Charlie Crist, a former Republican, who helped President Obama's campaign in Florida this year.
Diaz was a big help to Obama's Florida campaign as well. In the waning days of the election when he cut a Spanish-language ad rebutting a spot from Republican Mitt Romney's campaign, which suggested the president was a socialist.
As a past leader of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Diaz has some close allies in top spots. He wants to hire some of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's campaign team.
New York Mayor and media tycoon Michael Bloomberg wrote the forward to Diaz's book, Miami Transformed, which Diaz is promoting.
Diaz is also on good terms with former Baltimore Mayor and current Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who recently stepped down as head of the Democratic Governor's Association.
One Democratic source said the DGA is nervous about a potential Crist candidacy because of the former Republican governor's "baggage."
But Diaz has some, too, according to his critics in Miami-Dade, home of the largest bloc of voters in the state.
His successor, Republican Tomas Regalado, faulted Diaz for leaving the city's budget in bad condition.
Regalado noted that as mayor, Diaz spent more money than Miami took in, draining the reserves from $120 million at the beginning of his tenure to just $20 million by the end.
"He's going to have a hard time explaining the way he left Miami," Regalado said.
Regalado also faulted Diaz for pushing for a new stadium for the Miami Marlins baseball team.
Diaz won't, however, need to explain anything after recently changing his party affiliation from independent to Democrat, Regalado said.
"Thankfully, Charlie Crist has already done that," he said.
Other Miami movers and shakers, though, say Diaz did an excellent job in trying times.
"Manny is a visionary leader who has never lost his footing or his roots," Eduardo J. Padrón, Miami Dade College president, said in blurb about Diaz's book. "He epitomizes the immigrant success story and the fruition of the American Dream."
Miami Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report