Last year, long before he became a congressional candidate running in a Democratic primary, Ken Russell attended a Miami fundraiser for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.
But he says he didn’t give the conservative Republican a dime.
At the time a newly elected city commissioner, Russell was among a small crowd that gathered at a South Miami Avenue home for a luncheon held to support Cruz, whose wife, Heidi Cruz, was the featured guest at the March 10 event. Attendees, who were asked to give a suggested $1,000-a-plate donation, grazed on a buffet outside on Lourdes and Leoncio de la Peña’s backyard terrace and listened to Heidi Cruz speak.
“He asked to come to my house. He wanted to meet Heidi,” said Lourdes Castillo de la Peña. “He told me how impressed he was with her when she spoke.”
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Though Russell was a registered Democrat, no one thought twice about a nonpartisan city commissioner attending a Cruz fundraiser held in his district. But now that Russell is in the thick of a packed Democratic primary to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as the U.S. representative for Florida’s left-leaning 27th Congressional District, his low-key presence at a fundraiser for a far-right conservative senator from Texas could be something of a liability.
In an interview, Russell — who later that summer participated in the Democratic National Convention as a delegate —confirmed his attendance at the Cruz fundraiser. But he said he was merely interested in listening to the opinions of someone with whom he “vehemently disagrees.”
“When Democrats meeting with Republicans becomes a newsworthy event, it’s clear we have a failure of communication in the country,” Russell wrote in a text message that touted his success in pushing “progressive legislation and “a willingness to meet with and listen to the other side.”
That same interest, he said, drew him to attend both the March 9 Democratic presidential debate at Miami Dade College and the Republican presidential debate the night after the Cruz fundraiser at the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center, during which he tweeted quotes and pictures. Castillo de la Peña said Russell asked her to get him a debate ticket, which was free but distributed by the Republican National Committee. She says Russell sat in a section with Cruz’s supporters, though Russell remembered going separately.
“While I’m glad to have attended both Democratic and Republican debates and events, of course I didn’t give Ted Cruz a dime — I’m a Democrat,” Russell said, adding later that who he got tickets from or went with to the debate doesn’t matter. “My positions and opinions are clear. And the fact that I listen to all sides will only serve my decisions for the better.”