Ending a week of speculation and political maneuvering, Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Jean Monestime told fellow Democrats Thursday he would not challenge Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016.
The announcement officially ended an effort by state Democrats to recruit Monestime to take on the county’s senior Republican in a county so blue that the GOP finishes third in registration tallies behind independents. Multiple sources close to Monestime described him as interested in a run for the non-partisan post, and senior Democrats at one point were planning for a campaign announcement this week.
But word came from the Monestime camp on Tuesday that he had opted not to challenge Gimenez, and on Wednesday the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party said Monestime wasn’t running. He remained mum until a speech before a Democratic gathering at Miami’s City Hall restaurant on Thursday night.
“While I am humbled by the suggestion that I personally enter the campaign for Mayor,” Monestime said, according to prepared remarks, "I believe much more can be accomplished in the year ahead by expanding my campaign for greater prosperity as the Chairman of Miami-Dade County.”
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Monestime’s quick exit from the mayoral mix leaves the race between two main contenders: Gimenez, in office since 2011, and school board member Raquel Regalado, who is also a Republican. Now in her second term, Regalado brings name recognition of her own as well as that of her father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.
State Democrats said they wanted to make the race a partisan contest, with hopes that Monestime could ride the coattails of the party’s presidential nominee to victory in November.
To win, Monestime — Miami-Dade’s first Haitian-American comission chairman —would have needed to defy conventional wisdom that only a Hispanic can win countywide in Miami-Dade. (Both Gimenez and Regalado are Hispanic and Spanish speakers.) He also would need to actually get to Election Day, since all mayoral candidates first face off in an August primary that can be won outright with more than 50 percent of the vote. Without a majority, the top two finishers head for a November run-off.
A mayoral run would have carried high stakes for Monestime, since the state’s “resign-to-run” law would have required him to leave the commission once the next mayoral term begins at the end of the 2016.
Though Monestime has had a stormy tenure as chairman — a rift with Commissioner Audrey Edmonson recently sparked a rare, tense agenda fight in public — on Thursday he called for solidarity on housing, public safety and other local issues.
“It is my hope that a united Board of County Commissioners, focused on setting the priorities for our community, rather than divided by a high-stakes political battle, will make real progress,” he said.