This is one of four profiles about the candidates for May 22 special election for the District 5 seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission, which was vacated by Bruno Barreiro so that he could run for Congress. We've also published profiles on candidates Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Eileen Higgins and Zoraida Barreiro.
Three candidates for Miami-Dade County Commission took their seats at the América TeVé television studio for a debate, fielding questions from the hosts and returning to talking points from the campaign. Carlos Garin was the first to look directly into the camera for his pitch, brandishing a shiny metal pen to punctuate his points and slicing the air with outstretched hands.
In his bid to break into politics, the former telenovela actor hasn't approached the pace of his rivals when it comes to fundraising or endorsements. But he may have them beat on theatrics and stage presence.
"I was emotional," Garin said after the taping of TeVé 's "Preparen Apunten Voten" debate, which anchor Félix Guillermo hosted. "It came from the heart."
Garin hopes to succeed Bruno Barreiro as the next commissioner for Miami-Dade's District 5, which stretches from the coast of Miami Beach to Little Havana. Barreiro gave up the seat in March after 20 years on the 13-member commission to seek the Republican nomination in the race to succeed Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress.
In the May 22 special election, Garin faces three candidates with more money and exposure. There are Barreiro's wife, Zoraida Barreiro, who ran for Miami City Commission last year, and Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a former state senator. His third rival, Eileen Higgins, is the only Democrat in a race against three Republicans, giving the first-time candidate access to fundraising, party dollars and endorsements.
Garin has raised about $5,000 for his campaign, far below the $40,000 reported by Higgins, who is running third in the donations race. The actor casts his campaign as one for underdogs.
"I'm running for justice. I'm running for my grandpa," the Cuban-born Garin said. "I'm running for the older people. I'm running for our children."
Other campaigns have raised questions about his residency, since the Elections Department has a change-of-address form from March that showed his address updated to his girlfriend's house on Poinciana Avenue outside District 5. While Garin acknowledged having his mail sent elsewhere, he said the District 5 Brickell Avenue address listed on his current voter card is where he's been living since 2016.
His online film credits include a string of parts on Spanish-language television productions starting in 2006, when he moved to the United States from Ecuador. Garin said he moved to Venezuela in 1996 from Cuba after being branded a dissident in his home country and doing jail time. "I was six months disappeared," he wrote in an email Friday night. "My prisoner number was 4317."
Show business followed. His audition reel shows Garin as a prosecutor on Telemundo's "Alguien Te Mira" in 2010, and cast in a more romantic role in the network's "Perro Amor" series that year, too.
"He's a master," comedian Bonco Quinongo said after running into Garin after the TeVé appearance.
Garin also hosted a short-lived radio show on La Poderosa 670 AM. He said the show ended after the station parted ways with him. A station executive was not available for an interview Friday.
For now, Garin's career in show business appears to be on pause.
Garin's financial disclosure form for the race only shows less than $30,000 in income from work as an Uber and Lyft driver, and as an art teacher. His social media accounts show a string of gallery shows and exhibitions for his work as a painter.
His online platform includes a call for more cultural tourism in Miami-Dade, a call for education reform that includes restoring the "Christian principles of this country," and expanding the presence of armed police in schools. The arts also feature prominently when Garin talks about his run for County Commission, saying Miami-Dade needs to put more effort into promoting performers and reviving local theaters.
"We have more problems than housing," he said. "I think the most important problem we have here is culture."
Education: Marketing courses in a United Nations education program and an acting program at the Havana Arts Institute
Birthplace: Havana, Cuba
Voting in District 5
Early voting runs from Saturday, May 12, to Sunday, May 20. Polls open at 8 a.m. each day and close at 6 p.m., except for Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20. On those days, polls close at 4 p.m. The nonpartisan primary is open to all registered voters living in Miami-Dade's District 5. Election Day is May 22, with polls open that day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Click here for poll places on Election Day, and here for a sample ballot. If no candidate takes more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held June 19 between the top two finishers .
Early voting is available at the following locations:
▪ Hispanic Branch Library, 1398 SW First St., Miami
▪ Miami Beach City Hall, 1700 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach
▪ Shenandoah Branch Library, 2111 SW 19th St., Miami
▪ Stephen P. Clark Government Center, Elections Branch Office, 111 NW First St. (Lobby), Miami