The day after finishing with just under 48 percent of the vote in a primary with seven candidates, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez joked with reporters that he was actually running in an eight-person field.
“I was running against the mayor of the city of Miami, too,” he said during a round of County Hall interviews.
It’s been no secret over the last 18 months that Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has helped his daughter, School Board member Raquel Regalado, in her bid to knock Gimenez out of office.
The city mayor has recorded robocalls, taken to the airwaves to defend his daughter from political attacks and — though he denies political motivation — at times used his elected office to make Gimenez’s life difficult.
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But it’s not just the mayor of Miami assisting Regalado’s mayoral campaign. His employees are on board as well.
Last month, two of the mayor’s office aides were paid thousands to work for an electioneering communications organization shared by the Regalados. State reports show Serving Miamians paid Fredericke Alan Morley $6,000 on Aug. 1 and Jose Marrero $3,500 two days later for work described as community outreach.
Gimenez’s campaign calls the use of city aides for paid political work “unethical.”
But Regalado says her campaign is operating both legally and transparently, and alleges it’s Gimenez who is “blurring the lines” by allowing staffers to perform campaign work as volunteers.
“We’re very careful about that,” she said.
Legally, municipal employees in Florida are allowed to work for political campaigns as long as it’s not done on the public’s time and dime. But ethics experts say the practice raises dodgy issues.
“It’s very messy and that’s why most public employees don’t do it, because it is so hard to draw the lines” between government and campaign, said Robert Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern law and ethics professor. Jarvis said if public workers are going to campaign, the best way to do avoid conflicts is to take time off from their day job.
Which is exactly what Mayor Regalado says his employees did.
“They used their own car, their own gas. They took days off and burned their vacation,” Tomás Regalado said. “They weren’t allowed to use anything that said the mayor’s office.”
Regalado’s office did not provide time logs requested Wednesday. But Morley, who earns $47,000 a year as a community liaison for the mayor’s office, said he took off the entire month of August. He said he broached the idea with his boss, not the other way around.
I was running against the mayor of the city of Miami, too
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez
“I made sure that I didn’t do anything in the city. It wasn’t a conflict,” he said. “I was in Miami Gardens and went down south to Richmond Heights.”
Marrero, whose salary is $50,000, did not respond to a message left with a secretary at the mayor’s office.
Serving Miamians has also paid Anna Parekh, Raquel Regalado’s top school board aide, close to $21,000 over three years for research conducted during her free time.
“It is not surprising that once again our opponent is skirting the laws and resorting to unethical practices,” said Jessie Manzano-Plaza, Gimenez’s campaign spokesman. “Her campaign’s lack of transparency — from using her father’s staff to fundraising into a secretive [501c4] entity — is not in line with our community’s values.”
Not so, says Raquel Regalado, who stresses that all the work done by office staffers is conducted with the clear understanding that it can only be performed during time off their government jobs. She also said the work is strictly paid to draw distinct lines between when staffers are working for the government and for the campaign — lines she said are sometimes crossed under Gimenez at County Hall.
”People who work in his office do work on his campaign, but they don’t disclose it,” she said. “It’s a disaster over there in terms of blurring the lines between the county and campaigning.”
I made sure that I didn't do anything in the city. It wasn’t a conflict
Fredericke Alan Morley, Regalado office aide
Regalado, for instance, accuses Gimenez and county spokesman Michael Hernández of breaking the law by campaigning on county time, an allegation he vehemently denies
“Not only do I not campaign on county time, I’ve never been paid for the minimal volunteer work I do on my personal time,” Hernández said. “Her accusations don’t align with reality.”
The issue is likely to resurface again before the general election in November.
“More than likely those last two weeks I’m going to take off again,” said Morley. “I’ll speak to my office manager and the mayor to find out if there’s anything else I need to do to make sure everything is correct. I don’t want any backlash.”
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.