“Tell your boss he already paid for the caterer, he’s got to go through with the wedding now,” Fresco wrote on a cab ride home.
Gonzalez responded unapologetically: “You know Cubans are always willing to blow up a good party at any time,” Fresco recalled.
Rubio’s spokesman declined any interviews, noting an office policy against staff profiles.
It was actually two Cuban-Americans from Miami who dominated the immigration talks. Gonzalez, who also is a Miami immigration attorney, led the Republican negotiations.
Despite often butting heads, the two grew tight over shared cab rides home and late-night dinners at Johnny Rockets and Chipotle, according to Fresco and others familiar with the negotiations. They discussed law school and their legal backgrounds. Fresco went to Yale, Gonzalez to Cornell.
Gonzalez shared stories about his family, and Fresco sought out guidance on how to find the right balance between work and life. Fresco told Gonzalez about growing up in the Cuban Jewish neighborhood of North Bay Village and going to school with future football star Chad Johnson (a.k.a Chad Ochocinco).
The email crack about the caterer was classic Fresco. He was known to speak his mind, sometimes to his own detriment, but even the barbs were laced with humor.
The pointed remark was a line from the movie A Night at the Roxbury, a cheesy 1998 comedy starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan about two head-bobbing brothers who fail miserably at picking up women.
Staffers called them “Leonisms.” Fresco has a near encyclopedic knowledge of pop references. He’d sometimes break into song or quote lines from a movie — anything to boost morale, to keep talks moving.
After graduating from Yale Law School, Fresco returned to Miami to work at the law firm of Holland & Knight, where he mostly took pro-bono cases. He handled several high-profile cases including an HIV-positive Colombian fighting deportation and a schizophrenic man convicted of murder suing federal court for using “chemical agents” to subdue mentally ill inmates.
Fresco joined Schumer’s staff in 2009, when Schumer was talking with Graham about bringing back up a comprehensive immigration package. The New York senator describes Fresco as “our immigration genius” and has his number memorized.
“I must dial it 10 times a day,” Schumer said.
He praised Fresco for coming up with some of the toughest legislative compromises, including breaking a deadlock between business and labor over wages for future immigrant workers.
“When there is a problem that seems intractable, you push the Leon button and out comes a solution that both sides like,” Schumer said.
But Fresco sometimes talks too much — or too loud. It’s Fresco whispering in Schumer’s ear during sensitive committee negotiations. But he speaks so loudly that rest of the group can hear him. “I say, ‘Leon, be quiet,’ ” Schumer said. “He’s brilliant, but he gives away the whole negotiating strategy in the first sentence.”
Citing Fresco’s message to Gonzalez, Schumer said Fresco may have been a little too pointed with his remark, but he called the message effective because he and others had felt blindsided by Rubio.
Fresco says he can relate to Rubio. He sees a lot of himself in Rubio.
He grew up Republican with a “pro-Republican, pro right-wing” mindset that he maintained until law school. His father ran a family real estate business. His mother managed network programs for a cruise line and helped devise a system where passengers could get their bags transferred from the airport to their ship’s cabin.
His parents remain conservative. “My father loves Rubio,” Fresco said.