Carlos J. Gimenez, the son of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, and one of his co-workers spent the past two weeks trying to persuade three candidates to leave a school board race and endorse opponent Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas — who happens to be his aunt and the mayor’s sister-in-law.
Three of Rojas’ four opponents told the Miami Herald they received phone calls from the younger Gimenez or his colleague Luis Mata after they qualified for the ballot. The men took a “really strong tone,” according to one of Rojas’ rivals, Modesto Abety.
“It did sound like bullying to me,” said Abety of his conversation with an associate at the firm where Gimenez works. “Sort of like, ‘It would be better for you if you drop out.’ ” Days later, after Abety made it clear he was staying in the race, he declined to meet with Rojas after a “cordial” email exchange. Abety said he is open to meeting Rojas in the future.
Abety, former president and chief executive of the Children’s Trust, didn’t drop out (he joked that Rojas should drop out and support him instead). Neither did the other two candidates telephoned, Richard Tapia and Gus Machado. Tapia eventually left the race for a different reason a few days later. Each candidate paid $1,702.80 to qualify for the ballot.
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Gimenez, who is known as C.J., did not deny talking to the candidates. He countered that school board member Raquel Regalado, who is leaving her District 6 seat to run against Mayor Gimenez, is “running around town recruiting multiple candidates promising them money and support.”
C.J. Gimenez, a Republican, is vice president and general counsel for Balsera Communications, a Coral Gables public-relations firm run by Democratic consultant Freddy Balsera. Mata is a senior account executive at the firm. C.J. Gimenez has lobbied the city of Doral on behalf of Donald Trump’s Doral golf resort.
Regalado called C.J. Gimenez’s claim “absolutely absurd.” All three candidates still opposing Rojas denied that Regalado encouraged them to run. In addition to Abety and Machado, Pedro Mora is also in the race. Mora said he had not been contacted by C.J. Gimenez or Mata.
Machado, who is not related to the well-known car dealer with the same name, said Regalado didn’t reach out to him.
“Raquel never even contacted me,” he said. “I contacted her and asked for her endorsement because she’s the one that vacated the seat.”
Regalado hasn’t endorsed anyone to succeed her yet, but her support could affect the race. She blasted C.J. Gimenez for meddling with the school board contest and extended her criticism to his father, whom she’s trying to unseat.
“Carlos Gimenez Jr. is his father’s son,” Regalado said. “They bully people and believe they have the right to determine who leads our community. It shows the lack of respect they have for the democratic process.” A Gimenez campaign spokesman was unavailable for comment.
Neither Mata nor Rojas, a former teacher, principal and school district administrator, commented for this story.
The younger Gimenez defended reaching out to the candidates after qualifying ended.
“My point in talking to other candidates was to let them know that we have a candidate with an unparalleled résumé and profile who has dedicated her entire life to the public school system,” he said of his aunt.
None of the District 6 candidates has ever held elected office before.
Tapia, a social sciences professor at Miami Dade College, briefly qualified then dropped out a few days later. Tapia said he received a call from C.J. Gimenez a day after he filed his papers to run on June 17.
“He said, ‘I want to meet with you,’ ” Tapia recalled. “I said: ‘C.J., I don’t want to meet with you. I am running to win.’ ” Tapia said. Gimenez replied that he respected his position.
The two did end up meeting, once Tapia said he had begun the process to drop out of the race. When they met at a Coral Gables restaurant on June 30, Tapia had already stopped payment on his qualifying fee after reconsidering his bid. He said Abety’s filing made him decide to drop out.
“C.J. was very happy I was off the ballot,” Tapia said. “They saw me as the other contender to beat.”
Abety said he was baffled by the whole incident.
“I don’t know what to make of it or if it’s standard operating procedure,” Abety said. “Especially when the person is the son of the mayor.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Modesto Abety received a call from Carlos J. Gimenez asking him to meet his aunt. There was an email exchange between Abety's campaign staff and Gimenez.