Francis Suarez abandons Miami mayor’s race

08/26/2013 5:24 PM

08/26/2013 10:47 PM

Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez pulled out of the race for mayor Monday evening, saying a series of miscues by staffers set his fledgling campaign on its heels and threatened to become too stressful for his pregnant wife, Gloria.

Standing in the driveway of his Coral Gate home with Gloria at his side and other family members looking on, Suarez said he consulted with family members and associates over the weekend and spoke with his main opponent, Mayor Tomás Regalado, early Monday.

Suarez, who announced his candidacy for mayor in January, said he and his wife had been trying to have a baby for years and learned of Gloria’s pregnancy only in the past three months.

“This is a very personal decision. My wife and I have been trying to have a baby for the past four years,” he said. “It was a concern to me that the negativity [in the campaign] would become an issue for my family.”

Despite raising family concerns, Suarez took responsibility for a series of blunders that have hampered his campaign since June, admitting it was more difficult than he imagined to run a mayoral campaign.

“A lot of it is mistakes we made, and I’ve learned from it,” he said. Suarez’s decision came one day before the deadline to officially file to run for mayor on Nov. 5.

Suarez’s move opens the door for an easy reelection for Regalado, who will now face a field of unknowns.

Despite dropping out of the mayor’s race, Suarez will remain the commissioner for Miami’s District 4, the city’s westernmost. Suarez, 35, won his first political campaign in 2009, replacing Regalado when he won the mayor’s seat. Suarez was reelected without opposition in 2011, and will remain at his commission post until 2015.

The son of former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez — now a Miami-Dade County commissioner — Francis Suarez often speaks of how politics is in his blood and never denied he would make a run for mayor one day. Early in 2012, Suarez boldly moved to restructure Miami government, pushing to change the city charter to a strong-mayor system similar to Miami-Dade’s. The movement died quickly after it failed to gain support from other commissioners and the administration.

Unbowed, Suarez announced his candidacy for mayor in January.

Though flush with cash, the Suarez mayoral campaign has been mired in missteps over the past few months.

They began in June when Miami-Dade police investigators went to the homes of two campaign aides and confiscated computer equipment in a sweep looking into absentee ballot issues. The investigation resulted in no-contest misdemeanor pleas last week by campaign operations manager Juan Pablo Baggini and Esteban “Steve” Suarez, the commissioner’s cousin. Both will serve one year of probation for unlawfully submitting 20 ballot requests online.

State prosecutors also say the two men paid two women at a Cinco de Mayo party in Mary Brickell Village to sign up absentee ballot voters. Prosecutors said the women were doing shots of alcohol with potential voters in exchange for their signing forms authorizing the campaign to request ballots on their behalf.

State prosecutors determined Suarez’s only involvement in the ballot miscue was telling the aides to make sure what they were doing was legal.

A week before the two aides were charged, Suarez was forced to fire an administrative assistant who had gone rogue on her Twitter account. Christina Haramboure, 24, tweeted derogatory comments about constituents over several months, posting at one point: “PLEASE GET A LIFE, A HOBBY, A LOBOTOMY.”

The announcement that Suarez was ending his mayoral campaign stunned political insiders and observers of what was expected to be a tight contest for Miami’s premier post. Suarez had presented himself as a new type of leader, concentrating on attracting young voters through social media.

Still, political pollster Fernand Amandi warned that voters should not count Suarez out too soon. Others have done far worse and made bigger comebacks, he noted.

“It’s difficult to present the image of new leadership for the new Miami when your campaign is accused of engaging in the same old tactics,” Amandi said. “Mr. Suarez is still young, and he has an opportunity to still address some of these challenges and perhaps correct them, and one day in the future run again. In Miami, there are no second chapters; there are 10th and 11th chapters.”

Regalado said he and Suarez met early Monday, and that the commissioner told him he was weighing his options. The mayor, who had his own costly campaign woes in 2009 over sloppy financial reporting, said he sympathized with Suarez, noting that when a campaign gets too large it is difficult to keep track of everything.

“He had bumps in his campaign,” said the mayor. “A lot of people were doing things the candidate didn’t know. The campaign became too big.”

Suarez’s support had been impressive. He easily raised more money than Regalado, a seasoned politician who has not lost an election in almost 20 years.

As of June 30, an Electioneering Communications Organization supporting Suarez and run by political operative Jose “Pepe” Riesco had raised $824,212. Donations came from companies and individuals. The management consulting firm Nsoro Mastec contributed $25,000, lobbyist Steve Marin tossed in $15,000, and lobbyist Ron Book donated $10,000. Suarez had also personally raised $495,911 in campaign contributions as of July 10, according to city records.  

City records show Regalado has raised $449,468.

Suarez said Monday his instinct is to return the money to contributors, but added he needs to speak to his lawyers first to determine whether any legal issues might be involved.

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