The first televised confrontation en español between the two candidates for Miami-Dade mayor aired Sunday, giving viewers a rare glimpse of the contenders debating in the county’s most prevalent language.
The debate was taped Friday afternoon at Univision studios with a Miami Herald reporter present. It was broadcast Sunday morning.
In his opening statement, incumbent Carlos Gimenez stumbled on his words. He got the jitters and appeared to briefly blank out, searching for the right words. At times, Gimenez spoke in Spanglish.
“Como siempre, ella quiere tener — wants to have her cake and eat it too,” Gimenez said in a mix of English and Spanish, referring to his opponent’s stance on police body cameras. Raquel Regalado had said that she supports body cameras but that the community’s top priority should be preventing youth gun violence.
For me, all Ms. Regalado does is say she’s in favor, but that she’s not in favor.
Incumbent Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Gimenez continued: “She supports the cameras, but then she’d rather put the funds down toward other things. We are already addressing that issue. … For me, all Ms. Regalado does is say she’s in favor, but that she’s not in favor.”
Regalado, who until recently was a Spanish-language radio host, has been challenging Gimenez to take her on in Spanish. Until now, the mayor had not accepted any joint appearances on Spanish radio or TV.
Though Gimenez regularly addresses the media and audiences in Spanish, he has acknowledged that Regalado is probably the stronger Spanish speaker. After getting fewer votes in the primary than he had hoped for — 48 percent to Regalado’s 32 percent, but he had expected to top 50 percent and win the race without a fall runoff — the mayor finally told journalists that he would debate his challenger in both languages before the runoff.
“I wish we would have had more debates in Spanish but unfortunately this is the only one we’ll have in a county where the grand majority of the people communicate in Spanish,” Regalado said.
The 30-minute debate was moderated by Univision’s Ambrosio Hernández, el Nuevo Herald executive editor Myriam Marquez and Bernadette Pardo, host of Radio Mambi 710’s political talk show “Pedaleando con Bernie” (Pedaling with Bernie).
We’ve had someone in the mayor’s seat for five years that hasn’t done anything and now says he’s going to do this. Those are empty promises.
Raquel Regalado, candidate for mayor
Although there were some rough exchanges, the debate was less feisty than two previous ones in English. Candidates had 30 seconds to respond to each question. The rules were that if either attacked their opponent, the opponent would bank an extra 30 seconds.
Before the program, candidates were stiff. Tension was evident as neither candidate acknowledged the other and stood behind the podiums.
Among the topics of discussion were transportation, job creation and traffic — all subjects of earlier debates — and condominium fraud, following an investigation by el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 in March.
Last year, hundreds of complaints involving electoral irregularities were submitted by condo owners in Miami-Dade and Broward to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the state agency that supervises condo operations.
According to the investigation, with nearly 1.6 million condos in Florida — 38 percent of them in Miami-Dade and Broward — the state has long faced many difficulties combating fraud and bribes to members of the boards of directors and the management companies that they hire.
Proposals to strengthen condo laws and regulations in the last two state legislative sessions were never approved. Police departments kept referring complainants to civil courts or the state, and the state agency insisted it did not have the authority to investigate many of the complaints.
“We have our hands tied because of state laws,” Gimenez said. “There is abuse and it has to stop. We have to change the law first, and when the law changes, we can then be much more aggressive against the individuals who are committing this fraud . It seems like this isn’t a problem anywhere else in the state, just here, which is why lawmakers are not focused on fixing this problem. But we are focused and we will change those laws with our state representatives.”
Regalado said the problem could be worked on right here at home.
“What we are talking about is criminal fraud, and who should be investigating this are the police officers of Miami-Dade County, specifically the economic crimes unit. At this moment, that unit does not investigate anything that doesn’t surpass $50,000. What we need is to hire more police officers to investigate smaller crimes.”
During their closing statements, Regalado asked that voters “consider the future of our county.”
“I don’t have to tell the residents of Miami-Dade that about 40 percent of us pay more than 50 percent of our earnings on rent or mortgage; that your water will go up another 8 percent; that we are not better off today than we were five years ago; that this is the only county that hasn’t overcome the recession,” she said.
“We don’t have a transportation system. We’ve had someone in the mayor’s seat for five years that hasn’t done anything and now says he’s going to do this. Those are empty promises.”
Gimenez said he has “always been in the battle, in the fight, to better the conditions of our county.”
“I also have an impeccable reputation of honesty, integrity, as well as the ability; I am competent. I have always left conditions better than before. This is the fourth largest county in the country — a county with a $7 billion budget, 26,000 employees. We are also in charge of the two biggest economic engines — the port and the airport. You need someone with capacity [to be mayor]; someone who is proven.”