MIAMI POLITICS

3 colleagues back Miami Commissioner Suarez for mayor over Regalado

 

msanchez@ElNuevoHerald.com

Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, who is vying to unseat mayor Tomás Regalado in the upcoming November election, now has the support of three of his four colleagues, in addition to that of the county mayor.

Commissioners Marc Sarnoff, Michelle Spence-Jones and Wifredo “Willy” Gort, as well as Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, will host a fundraising party for Suarez next week.

Their support for Suarez over an incumbent mayor speaks to the wide disapproval among many local leaders of Regalado’s tenure. Regalado won his 2009 race with more than 70 percent of the vote.

“These are significant leaders in the community who are excited about the possibility of having a mayor like me who has a clear vision about the future of this city,” said Suarez, who was reelected without opposition in 2011 after winning Regalado’s old seat in a special election two years earlier.

Regalado said he knows he’s made choices that haven’t sat well with the commission. As an example, he pointed to his decision last week to veto a plan favored by Sarnoff, Spence-Jones and Gort to allow some high-ranking retired municipal employees to return to the city’s payroll while collecting their pensions.

“But this election is about the residents of Miami and not the commissioners,” said Regalado, adding that he has the support of five county commissioners.

That Spence-Jones supports Suarez for mayor is no surprise. She’s a long-time political enemy of Regalado and recently sued him in federal court for allegedly conspiring to remove her from office.

Sarnoff supported Regalado’s first bid for mayor four years ago and said he considers him “an excellent custodian for the city at a time when it didn’t have the bank account we thought it had.” However, Sarnoff said he is supporting Suarez’s candidacy because he shares his “vision of what a modern city needs.”

Gort chose not to explain his decision to back Suarez. He only said that he’s “committed to this event, and that’s it.”

Commissioner Frank Carollo, who is focused on his own reelection campaign, said he doesn’t know whether he’ll back either of the two candidates.

Gimenez, who was the Miami city manager between 2000 and 2003, while Regalado was a commissioner, did not respond to messages on Monday or Tuesday. When Gimenez ran for the County Commission in 2004, he initially had Regalado’s endorsement. However, Regalado wound up supporting his opponent, Xavier Suarez, a former Miami mayor who happens to be Francis’ father. During the 2011 race for county mayor, Regalado supported Gimenez’s opponent, Julio Robaina.

According to the most recent financial reports from April, Suarez had received some $259,000 in contributions since he announced his candidacy in January. He raised another $719,000 for his electioneering communications organization (ECO), which he launched last year. For his part, Regalado has raised $321,000 for his campaign, which he started last summer, and another $93,000 to the ECO he launched this year.

The fundraising party for Suarez will be held on June 6 at the Coral Gables home of Vicky and Ralph Garcia-Toledo, a well-connected couple in Miami-Dade politics. Ralph Garcia-Toledo, whose godfather is Xavier Suarez, is an entrepreneur with businesses in construction management. He is also a close friend of Gimenez. His wife is an attorney with the law firm Bilzin Sumberg who specializes in land use and zoning.

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