Miami-Dade County

Raquel Regalado: I am running for Miami-Dade mayor in 2016

Raquel Regalado, a school board member, speaks with students in this March 2014 file photo.
Raquel Regalado, a school board member, speaks with students in this March 2014 file photo. EL NUEVO HERALD

School Board member Raquel Regalado said Sunday she plans to run for Miami-Dade mayor in 2016, saying the county needs a “different direction” than the one offered by Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“I think the decisions being made right now are having such a dramatic impact on our lives,” Regalado, 40, said of Gimenez, who has held the mayoral post since 2011.

Anticipated for weeks, Regalado’s announcement brings Gimenez, 61, his first official opponent as he gears up to run for his second full term. It also draws a formal political dividing line between the mayors of Miami-Dade and Miami, where Regalado’s father, Tomás Regalado, serves as mayor.

Regalado, a radio host, said she plans to file formal candidacy papers Monday and will release a series of campaign videos highlighting her message.

Regalado has already released two anti-Gimenez videos — one criticizing his Feb. 26 State of the County speech and the other slamming a mega-mall project he wants to bring to Miami-Dade. She also joined billionaire activist Norman Braman in suing both Miami and Miami-Dade over SkyRise Miami, a project that city voters approved in August that won a county subsidy with Gimenez’s backing after the successful referendum. Regalado and Braman claim the county dollars violate the ballot item’s description of a privately funded project.

Regalado is counting on dissatisfaction with Gimenez, 61, who won office in 2011 after the recall of then-Mayor Carlos Alvarez and then pushed through a reversal of Alvarez’s unpopular increase in property taxes amid the housing crash. Gimenez was elected to his first full term in 2012.

Sean Foreman, a political-science professor at Barry University, said Gimenez’s tax cut helped earn him ill will among unions and other organizations that depend on county dollars and services.

“He’s not unbeatable,” Foreman said of Gimenez, who recorded a 53 percentage approval rating in a Miami Herald poll conducted last summer. “He hasn’t done anything terribly wrong. But there are some groups that are upset with him.”

Gimenez and his political team did not comment Sunday on Regalado’s announcement, which she made in a series of interviews with the Herald and television stations. Rodney Barreto, one of Gimenez’s top supporters, said Regalado is running against an incumbent with a strong record of good government and fiscal discipline.

“I think the mayor has proven he is an honest person, No. 1. No. 2, he has been really firm with the unions,’’ said Barreto, the chairman of South Florida’s Super Bowl committee and a partner in a Coral Gables lobbying firm with Brian May, who represents the Miami Dolphins, SkyRise Miami and some top county vendors. “A lot of people recognize the fact that you can be firm and fair, and still watch the purse of the taxpayers.”

Regalado’s planned run for mayor sets up a battle between a two-term School Board member with little administrative experience and a longtime public administrator now in his fifth year as Miami-Dade’s top executive.

Once a practicing intellectual-property lawyer, Regalado now hosts a daily Spanish-language radio program on La Poderosa 670 AM, but listed no income from the show on her latest School Board disclosure form. She surrendered her home in early 2014, three years after a lender started foreclosure proceedings.

Regalado blamed the lapsed mortgage in part on complications from a divorce and in part on therapy bills for her daughter, who is autistic. Aside from her $35,000 yearly stipend from the School Board, Regalado’s other listed source of income for 2013 was $26,000 paid by her father’s reelection campaign that year.

Regalado said La Poderosa initially offered to charge her for the radio time and let her sell sponsorships. Concerned about potential conflicts with legal clients and then the School Board, Regalado said she agreed to receive no compensation for the show in exchange for free air time. Regalado, who said she stopped practicing law after joining the School Board in 2010, said she also earns no money for hosting a weekly television program on Mira TV.

With Gimenez facing his first reelection vote in the August 2016 primary, Regalado’s announcement comes about 18 months before Election Day. She and Xavier Suarez, who holds Gimenez’s former County Commission seat, are the only potential candidates to publicly say they are considering a run for county mayor. Suarez recently dropped his petition drive to cap county salaries, but said he has not yet decided on whether to challenge Gimenez.

Even with the tacit backing of Braman and the fundraising muscle of Miami’s mayor behind her, Regalado said she does not expect to match Gimenez’s campaign coffers. The incumbent raised $500,000 in a few weeks after launching his 2016 fundraising push in January, and February’s results are expected this week. Regalado told the Gray Zone radio show on March 2 that she needs to raise $2.5 million to be competitive.

In videos and in public statements, Regalado has criticized Gimenez for county job cuts and budget woes. Last year, she gained considerable media attention by championing the opposition to a failed property-tax hike to replace Miami-Dade’s civil courthouse, a proposal Gimenez supported.

Regalado brings one of the most recognizable local names in politics to the race. Along with her father, the Miami mayor, Regalado’s mother, Raquel Regalado, was an influential radio host on La Poderosa. She died in 2008.

The younger Regalado capitalized on her name recognition in 2010 when she tromped the other candidates for the School Board’s District 6 seat.

Now in her second term, Regalado has emerged as the second-most visible voice of the school system, behind Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Regalado said she expects to be attacked over her experience. But she said her role as an elected leader and single mom gives her the kind of experience Miami-Dade could use.

"The last two mayors we've had were lifelong government employees," she said, referring to Gimenez and Alvarez, a former county police chief. "How's that working out?"

"I am the first to admit I'm not what would be considered a typical candidate," Regalado said. "That's fine."

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