Incumbent Carlos Gimenez on Wednesday declined another debate in the Miami-Dade mayoral race, this time rejecting a planned event by the League of Women Voters with a panel of reporters from the Miami Herald, Miami Times, Univision and WLRN.
Gimenez’s campaign manager declined the invitation for the Sept. 28 debate in a brief email Wednesday that offered no explanation. The skipped event extends a pattern Gimenez established in the seven-candidate mayoral primary, when the incumbent accepted only one invitation to appear alongside his main challenger, school-board member Raquel Regalado.
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Susan Windmiller, president of the Miami-Dade League of Women Voters, said the decision works against educating voters for the contest to decide who will run Florida’s largest county.
We’re going to debate her again. We will be announcing those dates soon.
Gimenez campaign manager Jesse Manzano-Plaza
“Ultimately, the voters lost,” said Windmiller, an administrator in the county police department. Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson campus in downtown Miami was going to host the event, with the school offering live-streaming to media outlets, and would have archived the broadcast for viewing later by voters, Windmiller said.
Jesse Manzano-Plaza, Gimenez’s campaign manager, said he was surprised to see a League flyer this week advertising the event since the mayor’s team had not accepted the invitation. “That is not the right way to do things,” he said.
Windmiller said the League tried repeatedly to get an answer from the Gimenez campaign before assuming the lack of a “no” meant the candidate would attend. “I had no reason to believe he wouldn’t be there,” she said.
Manzano-Plaza said he had never received the letter from the League, which was addressed to the Gimenez campaign’s post office box. Earlier this month, the league posted the letter on Twitter. A reporter texted the letter to Manzano-Plaza as well.
He said Gimenez’s declining the League’s invitation does not mean the mayor is avoiding debates with Regalado, who finished the primary 16 points behind the incumbent. “We’ve debated Raquel Regalado before,” Manzano-Plaza said. “And we’re going to debate her again. We will be announcing those dates soon.”
Hiding is not an appropriate campaign strategy.
Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado
Gimenez also declined to attend an League debate held during the primary, which featured Regalado and four other challengers. He did not attend a West Kendall Homeowners Association forum (a group headed by a top Gimenez critic, Pets Trust founder Michael Rosenberg), one organized by the Miami Times, and declined an invitation for a joint appearance on Univision.
Regalado issued a statement Thursday that read in part: “This public forum would have served as a job interview, without any consultants or handlers scripting the message. Hiding is not an appropriate campaign strategy.”
The two mayoral candidates have faced-off once, during an Aug. 14 broadcast of Channel 10’s “This Week in South Florida” with hosts Glenna Milberg and Michael Putney, about two weeks before the Aug. 30 primary. Gimenez received generally favorable reviews for his performance in the tense, personal exchange between the two candidates.
Ultimately, the voters lost.
Susan Windmiller, president of the Miami-Dade League of Voters
Regalado, until recently a Spanish-language radio host, pressed Gimenez to debate in Miami-Dade’s most prevalent language, but Gimenez did not accept any joint appearances on Spanish-language radio or TV during the primary. Though he routinely addresses the media and audiences in Spanish, Gimenez has acknowledged Regalado is probably the stronger Spanish speaker of the two.
After a disappointing finish in the primary — Gimenez took 48 percent of the vote to Regalado’s 32 percent, but had expected to cross 50 percent and win the race without a fall runoff — the mayor told reporters he would debate his challenger in both English and Spanish during the runoff.
At that Aug. 31 press event, Gimenez said every broadcast media outlet wanted him and Regalado to appear on their stations, leading to a crush of debate invitations.
“I don’t think we need 17,000 debates,” he said. “I do have to govern, okay? I think we need a sufficient number so we can demonstrate the difference between her and I.”
Editor’s Note: County Hall reporter Douglas Hanks, the author of this article, was slated to be a panelist at the League of Women Voters debate.