It had been almost four weeks since Donald Trump sent Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez a preliminary offer to take over the Crandon Park golf course, and parks officials were under pressure to get the billionaire a response.
“Mayor wants Trump letter today — see me first thing,” county Parks Director Jack Kardys wrote deputy director George Navarrete on Monday, March 31, in an email sent at 6:43 a.m. About 45 minutes later, in an apparent reference to the pro tennis tournament held that weekend at Crandon, Kardys wrote Navarrete as well as county lawyer Monica Rizo: “He was on me at Sony — Monica he wants letter today.”
The emails came at a time when Gimenez now says he was staying out of the Trump proposal, since one of his sons works as a lobbyist for Trump’s resort in Doral. In a recent interview with Miami Herald news partner CBS 4, Gimenez said he recused himself after a Jan. 28, 2014, meeting when Trump consultant Ed Russo pitched him on the billionaire taking over management of Crandon’s 18-hole course.
“As soon as I saw Ed Russo and he said that he wanted to do an unsolicited proposal, I said I’m going to recuse myself, at that meeting, about a year ago. Because my son does some work for Donald Trump on the side with some cities. Not in the county, not directly,” Gimenez told CBS 4 reporter Jim DeFede on Feb. 15. “Out of an abundance of caution, I said ‘I’m going to recuse myself. You work with Jack Kardys.’”
The recusal issue first surfaced on Feb. 10, the day the Miami Herald revealed Trump had submitted a detailed Crandon proposal to the county’s Parks Department in July. The next day, Gimenez sent a memo to county commissioners formally recusing himself from the Crandon matter. “On Feb. 10, 2015, I became aware that Miami-Dade County received an unsolicited proposal from the Trump organization to assume management of the Crandon Golf Course in Key Biscayne,” Gimenez wrote in the Feb. 11 memo.
After media inquiries, Gimenez aides promptly released details showing Gimenez was aware of Trump’s offer. They said the mayor hadn’t known the golf mogul had actually sent a formal proposal to Parks in July until he read about it seven months later. Aides detailed how Gimenez and Trump played Crandon in late 2013, and that the developer laid out then what he could do to improve the course. And they revealed Gimenez’s Jan. 28, 2014, meeting, which included Russo, Kardys and Lisa Martinez, then a top aide to the mayor.
There was no mention then of a recusal, but Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said the mayor told Russo at the meeting to work with Kardys on a possible proposal. Trump wrote Gimenez on March 5 with a draft offer, with the mogul promising a $10 million rehab on Crandon in exchange for a long-term management contract. “I would appreciate you reviewing the proposed framework for our offer, and advise as to the next steps that we should take to move the process forward,” Trump wrote. “I will not let you down!”
On April 15, two weeks after Kardys’ urgent email about a response, Gimenez wrote back. “Your interest in supplying the imagination, energy and the capital to make Crandon Park on par with Pebble Beach is intriguing,” Gimenez wrote Trump in a letter. “I am designating Jack Kardys, Director of the Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department, as your point of contact in developing your formal proposal.”
Gimenez’s response letter had gotten stalled amid a review by parks officials and the county attorney’s office. Kardys wasn’t happy with the pace when he saw an email about the draft and realized it hadn’t gotten to the mayor’s office as planned. “I just saw this,” Kardys wrote staff on April 12. “I hope this is moving because the Mayor will be furious if Trump calls him for lack of response — please advise.”
The mayor’s formal recusal on Feb. 11 triggered county rules that transfer authority to the chair of the County Commission. The memo left Chairman Jean Monestime with the power to make the kind of recommendation that ordinarily would come to the commission from the executive branch. Monestime hasn’t said what he plans to do, but called Trump’s proposal a “long shot” in a recent interview.
The mayor’s son, Carlos J. Gimenez, who works for Balsera Communications in Coral Gables, is a lawyer and registered lobbyist in Doral for Trump’s Miss Universe pageant and the golf organization that plays a tournament at the Trump Doral. The younger Gimenez said he only advised Trump executives on legal and procedural matters involving a possible Crandon deal.
“My role was extremely limited,” the younger Gimenez said in an interview earlier this month. “I had absolutely zero interaction with anyone at the county in this matter.”
It was the younger Gimenez who first said his father had recused himself at the Jan. 28 meeting with Russo. “My understanding was there was a verbal recusal,” he said Feb. 11, hours after the mayor released his memo leaving Monestime in charge of the Crandon proposal. “It was very informal during the meeting.”
Hernández, the mayor’s spokesman, later confirmed the assertion of a verbal recusal, and Gimenez gave a fuller explanation on DeFede’s show that weekend.
Russo, the Trump aide, recalled Gimenez saying he would stay out of the matter at the 2014 meeting. “He said, ‘I really can’t have anything to do with this. Please deal with Jack.’” Kardys said the mayor made him the “point of contact” for Trump’s staff. Martinez declined to comment.
Aides to the mayor note the recusal was voluntary, and that the mayor was not legally required to stay out of the deal because his son isn’t working on it and has no financial stake in Trump’s Crandon venture. “Although he is under no obligation to recuse himself,” Hernández said of the Feb. 11 memo, “he found it was in the best interest of his administration to take this step.”
Gimenez and Russo spoke last month, when the mayor called him to solicit a campaign donation from Trump for the mayor’s recently launched reelection campaign, according to Russo and Ralph Garcia-Toledo, Gimenez’s finance chairman for the 2016 race. Russo, who joined Trump for his Crandon golf game against Gimenez in October 2013, said the Trump proposal did not come up in the January conversation about a contribution. Trump donated $15,000.
On Friday, Hernández said the parks emails supported an informal recusal, since Kardys was left in charge of responding to Trump and the mayor stayed out of the process once the formal reply was issued.
“The mayor had no involvement nor knowledge about the process after the April 2014 letter — which was in response to Mr. Trump’s correspondence from the month earlier,” Hernández wrote. “When he was made aware that the unsolicited bid was submitted in [July], Mayor Gimenez informed the Board of County Commissioners in writing that he would not be involved in the ongoing process.”
This post was updated with more precise information on Carlos J. Gimenez’s lobbying clients in Doral.