The media turned out in force Monday to chronicle Raquel Regalado’s official entry into the 2016 mayoral race for Miami-Dade County.
A school board member since 2010 and the daughter of Miami’s mayor, Regalado filed her candidacy papers to challenge Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez shortly after 10 a.m. at the county’s election office in Doral. “It’s not my first rodeo,” Regalado said to the elections clerk on the other side of a glass window as 13 reporters and camera operators crowded in to capture the moment.
She submitted her papers about 16 months before the first votes will be cast in the race, kicking off a drawn-out campaign against a well-funded incumbent. But as the lone challenger so far, Regalado can also enjoy the extensive — and free — media coverage she first began to generate last summer when she took on the legal establishment’s push for a new courthouse.
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“Today we begin charting a new course,” Regalado said in a campaign video posted Monday on raquelregalado.com. Gimenez did not respond to Regalado’s announcement.
Her race sets up a string of political fault lines around the area’s largest governments. As a school board member, Regalado gets to vote on a land deal Gimenez needs for American Dream Miami, a massive mall project he announced last week for Northwest Miami-Dade. She’s opposing the project, though the school board is set to receive $7 million for giving up its rights to the land.
Her father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, said Monday he plans to campaign for her. “I think she can do it,” Mayor Regalado said. “I will be there for her front and center.”
He and Mayor Gimenez are squaring off over $69 million in public dollars to add a Tri Rail station to the privately-funded train depot that All Aboard Florida is building downtown. The bulk of the Tri Rail funding would come from Miami itself, mostly through the special Overtown taxing district controlled by the city commission. Gimenez supports Miami-Dade contributing $8 million to the venture.
Last week, Gimenez called the Tri Rail plan a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for Miami because it would expand its commuter service to the coastal rail corridor that All Aboard is creating for its Miami-to-Orlando line. “The city of Miami needs to come aboard, too," Gimenez said Friday. "This will do wonders for the city itself.”
In comments to reporters Monday, Raquel Regalado questioned the need to spend tax dollars bringing Tri Rail downtown.
“I don’t think that the county should contribute funds to it,” Regalado said before filing her candidacy papers. She said since Tri-Rail already links the Metrorail station next to All Aboard’s new depot, there’s no need for government funds “to connect something that’s already connected.”
Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who ran Gimenez’s 2012 campaign, said Regalado’s early jump into the 2016 race makes it harder to do her job as a school-board member.
“I’m not sure the residents of Miami-Dade County are ready to start talking about a campaign that’s 18 months away,” said Manzano-Plaza, a partner in LSN Communications in Miami Beach who also ran the school board’s successful 2012 bond referendum. “It’s not appropriate for an elected official to be campaigning for so long. Their first responsibility should be to fulfill their duty as an elected official.”
Both Regalado and Gimenez are Republicans, but all mayoral candidates run in a non-partisan primary. Should one candidate not win 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers head into a November run-off, which coincides with the 2016 presidential election. A two-person race has no chance for a run-off.
So far, County Commissioner Xavier Suarez is the only other elected official to say publicly he’s seriously considering a run for county mayor. On Monday, Suarez didn’t embrace a campaign, saying the County Commission “can do a lot of things in the next year and a half. It would be a shame to spend it campaigning” for mayor.
Rebeca Sosa, another county commissioner seen as a possible candidate, said Monday: “I’m not running. I’m totally concentrated on my district.”
Regalado said she needs to raise $2.5 million for her campaign, but expects Gimenez, 61, to raise double that. Regalado, 40, said she plans to compensate by maintaining a high profile and reaching out directly to voters and elected leaders.
“I don’t want to be the candidate that people see on commercials,” she told reporters. “I want to be the candidate that someone actually meets and talks to.”
She has the support of billionaire activist Norman Braman, who joined Regalado to sue Miami and Miami-Dade to try and block county funding for the SkyRise Miami project, which Gimenez supports. On Monday, Braman said he was backing Regalado as a candidate, and criticized Gimenez for not focusing on proper priorities.
“I will support her enthusiastically,” said Braman, an auto magnate who, with his wife, donated $1,000 to Gimenez’s 2012 campaign after funding the 2011 recall of Gimenez’s predecessor, then-Mayor Carlos Alvarez. “The quality of life for people who live here has suffered under Gimenez.”
Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.