After raising upwards of $9 million, Miami-Dade’s two mayoral contenders head into the campaign finale with lopsided ledgers and polar closing arguments on the status of county government.
Incumbent Carlos Gimenez continued to dominate the money race against challenger Raquel Regalado in the final pre-election financial reports, which were posted Friday. Of the $8.7 million reported by their campaigns and political committees, Gimenez raised a little more than $7 million of it — a sum that local politicos called remarkable for a county race.
“God bless him. That is more than some governors’ races,” said Keith Donner, a political consultant who did work for Regalado’s 2016 effort before the Aug. 30 mayoral primary. “I’m in awe. That is a sizable sum. It just goes to show Miami-Dade has a lot of money floating around.”
Regalado, 42 and a school board member, has made Gimenez’s fundraising muscle a central part of her case to replace him, characterizing his five-year tenure as favoring lobbyists and county contractors who donate to him over the middle-class constituents she hopes to win on Election Day. “Together, we can make Miami-Dade County a better place to live,” Regalado said in a commercial that aired Saturday on MSNBC. “Not just for some of us. But for all of us.”
For Gimenez, 62, the final days of his third mayoral campaign in five years included a showcase of the advantages an incumbent brings to the race. On Friday he presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony for 11 new extra-long county buses, which Gimenez described as the latest example of his administration modernizing a transit system that’s a favorite target for criticism.
I think the enthusiasm is pretty high.
Rita Schwartz, founder of the Animal Power Party and supporter of Raquel Regalado
“On the trail, I hear some complaints about the condition of our buses,” Gimenez said during the event outside County Hall. “I’m very happy with the new additions. I’m also very happy at the pace of technology and how we’re changing our transit system here in Miami-Dade.”
The final Saturday before Election Day saw the two Republicans in the western suburbs of the county, an area rich in the Cuban-American voters Regalado is counting on to win the nonpartisan post of Miami-Dade mayor. She finished second in the seven-person mayoral primary on Aug. 30, with 32 percent of the vote. Gimenez narrowly missed topping the 50 percent mark needed to win the primary outright. But with 48 percent of the vote, he was forced into a November runoff against Regalado.
Even though her father, Tomás Regalado, serves as mayor of Miami, Regalado finished second in the primary in city precincts — behind Gimenez, who used to serve as Miami’s city manager and later represented part of the city as a county commissioner. Regalado’s school district includes parts of Miami, too, and she’s been using her father as a top campaign surrogate.
The race in Miami was relatively close — 44 percent to 39 percent. Regalado recently touted the endorsement of Jim Cason, the mayor of Coral Gables, an affluent city where Gimenez swamped Regalado by about 50 points in the primary.
We feel very confident African-American voters are recognizing what the mayor has done and what the mayor plans to do.
Carlos Gimenez’s campaign manager
Gimenez on Saturday emailed supporters a long list of local endorsements, including seven members of the 13-seat County Commission and Carlos Hernandez, mayor of Hialeah, the second-largest Miami-Dade city behind Miami and home to one of the closest contests between the two in the primary.
With about $1.6 million raised through the Friday reports, Regalado has been at a disadvantage on all spending fronts. Gimenez’s reelection effort has paid about $1.6 million to a single vendor, the G Media Group, for television and radio ads.
But she’s got the backing of some of Miami-Dade’s largest unions, including the ones representing county teachers and police officers, as well as the group of activists once called the Pets Trust but now operating as the Animal Power Party.
“We have three mobile trucks out,” said Rita Schwartz, a leader of the group, which advocates for more tax dollars for the county’s pet-sterilization efforts. One Animal Power truck features jumbo photos of a dog and cat wearing Uncle Sam hats over the slogan “Raquel Will Save Our Lives.”
“I think the enthusiasm is pretty high,” Schwartz said.
In 2011, Gimeenz won his first mayoral race when he took first in a special election called after then-mayor Carlos Alvarez lost the job in a recall. A year later, Gimenez easily won reelection to his first four-year term. Term limits would bar him from running again in 2020. Regalado, now in her second term on the school board, won her seat in 2010.
Gimenez’s camp expected to win the August primary outright and blamed the runoff on a surprisingly strong showing by the race’s lone African-American candidate, retired teacher Frederick Bryant, who took 9 percent of the vote. Gimenez still won most of the precincts in Miami Gardens and other cities where black voters dominate, but Bryant’s performance was enough to keep the mayor from topping 50 percent.
Jesse Manzano-Plaza, Gimenez’s campaign manager, said that the mayor’s early advocacy of body cameras for Miami-Dade police comes up the most with black voters at early-voting sites, and that Gimenez is on track for a big win with a constituency that fell short in the primary.
“We feel very confident African-American voters are recognizing what the mayor has done and what the mayor plans to do,” he said. “We feel pretty good about it.”
While the mayor’s race drew significant attention in the August primary, the fall presidential race dominates this time around. Regalado was the first to say she wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump, calling him unacceptable before Aug. 30. Gimenez followed suit after being forced into the runoff, and later said he planned to vote for Hillary Clinton. Regalado, running to be Miami-Dade’s first female mayor, wouldn’t say whom she was voting for in the presidential election.
Their presidential posturing largely reflects the candidates’ electorate: Gimenez enjoys broad advantages in areas rich with African Americans and affluent white, non-Hispanic voters, two groups that generally align with Democrats in Miami-Dade. Regalado counts on support from more conservative Hispanics, a Trump constituency. Privately, the Regalado camp sees Gimenez’s Clinton endorsement hurting him in November.
In a recent interview, Gimenez said he’s been targeted by robocalls accusing him of supporting each candidate. “Some that say I’m with Trump. Some that say I’m with Hillary,” he said. “It all depends on who is getting the call.” Though she was the first of the two to say Trump shouldn’t be president, Regalado was the subject of a robocall saying she wouldn’t “denounce” the candidate’s disparaging comments on women. “We must stand up for decency,” the narrator said. “We stand firm against Raquel Regalado.”
On Saturday, Regalado said she’s feeling good about Tuesday. She lost early voting in the primary, but sees November changing the dynamic enough to give her the edge with the wave of voters who didn’t turn out in August. “We’re excited,” she said. “The numbers are fantastic for us. The more people that come out to vote, the better.”