Miami’s Tomás Regalado keeps spending despite little competition

As Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado coasts toward his second term in office, he’s finding time to inform voters on the other issues on the Nov. 5 ballot, such as a project that could reinvent a chunk of Coconut Grove’s waterfront and a large bond offering that would pave the way for major improvements at Miami-Dade’s largest public hospital.

Despite the withdrawal of Commissioner Francis Suarez from the mayoral contest — the only real threat to Regalado’s reelection — the mayor continues to spend money and says he has no intention of abandoning the campaign trail.

In the past few weeks, his campaign has spent more than $100,000 on a radio advertising blitz in both English and Spanish. Tony Crapp Jr., a former city manager and former Regalado chief of staff, has lent his voice to bits on WMBM-1490, a gospel station with a large audience in the black community.

The mayor — who still faces three little-known opponents — says his key objective is getting out the vote. “I’m pushing for myself, looking for a mandate. I’m telling the people they need to vote. I don’t want to be seen as the mayor of the minority,” said Regalado.

As the mayor’s fundraising effort catapults past $1 million, it has allowed friends and family to prosper.

Through mid-October, when the most recent campaign finance report was due at the city clerk’s office, Regalado had raised $591,257. His Electioneering Communications Organization, registered with the state, collected another $456,455 over the same period.

Major beneficiaries have included Regalado’s daughter and campaign manager Raquel Regalado, who has been paid $30,000, and the mayor’s son, Jose Regalado, who has been paid $11,270 for photography and for creating a website.

The campaign has also paid Creative Ideas Advertising $143,758 for advertising and printing.

The company is owned by Maritza Gutierrez, the husband of lobbyist Armando Gutierrez, one of the mayor’s oldest and closest friends.

“We have a small group of people running the campaign. It’s friends and family. I’ve always done it. My wife used to be the treasurer and she was paid,” said Regalado.

Regalado’s late wife Raquel, who died shortly before his mayoral victory in 2009, handled the books during her husband’s earlier campaigns for city commissioner.

Her absence even caused an embarrassing flap last election go-round, as Regalado and his daughter — stepping in as campaign treasurer for her departed mother — accepted responsibility for sloppy bookkeeping and agreed to pay a $10,000 fine.

One of Regalado’s challengers, hospital consultant Jeff Benjamin, calls it “disingenuous” for the mayor to portray a local political campaign that has raised more than $1 million as small.

“Accountability becomes a factor. It’s nepotism,” said Benjamin. “That’s not small.”

The absence of Suarez, who was raising more money than the mayor, has allowed Regalado, 66, to take time to inform voters about other items on Tuesday’s ballot, though he’s not giving them his opinion. Though he has strong views on the issues, he says he has refrained from voicing them because he doesn’t want to inject controversy into the campaign.

“I’m telling people, you decide, but you have to be informed,” Regalado said.

Suarez abandoned the race in late August. Two of his campaign staffers were arrested over an absentee-ballot scandal in which they illegally submitted ballots online to the county’s elections department.

The mayor supports a plan that will be voted on Tuesday that would renovate the waterfront adjacent to City Hall, replacing Scotty’s Landing and the Chart House with three new restaurants. The controversial plan, opposed by some Grove residents, would restore two historic Pan Am hangars and create a public pier on the bay.

Regalado — who lists creating a sustainable budget without raising taxes as his largest accomplishment the past four years — is opposed to an $830 million bond issue for Jackson Memorial Hospital that is also on Tuesday’s ballot. The money would be used to modernize the aging facility and its network of clinics around Miami-Dade.

The mayor said even though the debt payment would come from county property taxes, not the city’s, “people look at the bottom line.”

His first four years in office have been far from smooth sailing.

A fight with former Police Chief Miguel Exposito — first over an ordinance regulating video gaming machines, later over the shooting deaths of seven black men by Miami police — was long and drawn out and garnered national publicity. In the end, Exposito was relieved of duty for insubordination. But the fight took a toll.

Though Regalado said the moves were unrelated, the city went through three city managers during the fiasco, which went on for over a year. In all, there have been four city managers during Regalado’s first four years in office.

The finance and budgeting departments have also been revolving doors, with so many openings at one point that one year the city’s usually several-hundred-pages budget book was little more than a couple of pages of line items.

Earlier this year, the Comprehensive Financial Annual Report — a key look at city finances for outside bond investors — wasn’t completed until late summer. It’s usually done by March or April.

A series of hires in budgeting and finance during the past year — most from Miami-Dade County — appears to have settled the ship. The last budget session went smoothly, and the city’s reserves have steadily risen.

“The city is on solid ground,” said Regalado.

Challengers to Regalado include Benjamin, a hospital consultant who has lived in Coconut Grove the past decade. He’s raised $6,496. Also running: Williams Armbrister, a Coconut Grove lifer who fought a trolley storage plan in the Grove and fought to preserve the E.W.F Stirrup House, an old Bahamian landmark in the Grove that some wanted demolished. Armbrister hasn’t raised any money, but said he has a secret plan to increase revenues and lower expenditures that he will share with commissioners if he’s elected.

Also on the ballot is Tom Baumann, who is also making his first run at mayor. Baumann is a Socialist Worker’s Party member who has been passing out copies of The Militant magazine to likely voters, he said. Baumann, a warehouse worker who has raised $164, said the money has been used primarily for fliers. He wants to raise the minimum wage.

Two weeks ago, Regalado visited the Miami Herald’s editorial board, promising to continue campaigning in fear of an embarrassing low turnout at the polls on Tuesday.

“How do you know I’m going to be reelected?” he joked. “There are not going to be any lines at the polls, I figure.”

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