Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez has jumped early into campaign mode for the mayor’s race, embracing social networking, meeting with young professionals and banking well more than $1 million with five months to go until Election Day.
The moves have forced Mayor Tomás Regalado to respond with an attack campaign prematurely, as well. Already, the mayor has taken to the Spanish-language airwaves challenging Suarez on when he plans to resign his commission seat to run for mayor.
Despite being forced to organize on someone else’s schedule, the mayor says he faces many of the same obstacles he overcame four years ago, heading to the Nov. 5 election: A much younger challenger promising to be progressive, endowed with a hefty bank account and who has the backing of the establishment.
Armed with those same attributes, Joe Sanchez in 2009 proved no match for Regalado, a seasoned pol who has made a career out of street-level campaigning, hugging and chugging cafecitos with the abuelos he grew up with, and promising to fix sidewalks and fill potholes instead of building new skyscrapers.
Still, Suarez, 35, with his slicked-back hair, pearly-white teeth and easy smile, is no Sanchez, who grew disinterested as the campaign wore on.
In fact, Suarez was having his cheeks squeezed as a boy by many of the same people who now drink Cuban coffee with the mayor.
The young scion of a once-popular Miami mayor says Regalado, 66, has repeatedly displayed poor judgment, especially in hiring, as scores of top managers have bailed on the city. Suarez’s dad is Xavier Suarez, a former city mayor who now sits on the Miami-Dade County Commission.
“You have a government in total and complete disarray. There is too much turnover and too many bad articles written. It causes investment to flee,” the younger Suarez said.
Regalado fired back that though there has been turnover and financial turmoil at City Hall, it hasn’t spilled into the street. He said his sole regret is the very public spat he had with then-Police Chief Miguel Exposito over a video-gaming ordinance the mayor sponsored, and a series of police killings of black men that had the city on edge.
He said Exposito’s eventual firing worked out because he was replaced with Chief Manuel Orosa, who the mayor says is doing a great job. As for the personnel turnover, Regalado pointed to achieving balanced budgets despite deficits, and taxes going down, every year he has been mayor.
“I’m running on my record, reduced salaries, not raising taxes, and cutting expenses,” Regalado said.
Though the election is still five months away — still too early for the unions to make a pick — Suarez has already filled street corners with large glossy portraits.
He has received endorsements from three of the city’s other four commissioners, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and a large chunk of the business community. Those endorsements have added up to a large lead in fundraising for Suarez, who has already collected well over $1 million, a large sum this early for a Miami mayoral campaign.
In reports submitted at the end of April, Regalado had collected $321,373 to Suarez’s $258,797. But the raw numbers are misleading, because Suarez’s electioneering communications organization, The Future is Now, has far outpaced Regalado’s Serving Miamians, $718,912 to $93,200, over the same time period. An ECO is a political committee that can raise unlimited funds but cannot endorse a specific candidate, though it can attack one, often in ads and mailers.