Miami-Dade County

Is Miami-Dade schools chief thinking of running for Congress?

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Friday he’s being courted to run for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — and he’s considering the overtures, but mostly out of a sense of respect for the people hoping he gets into the race.

“I have a sort of moral responsibility at least to entertain their request for consideration,” Carvalho said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “At the same time, my dedication and commitment to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools is as strong and unwavering as ever.”

Carvalho traveled to Washington on Thursday, fueling speculation that he was eying Ros-Lehtinen’s Democratic-leaning seat. But he went to the nation’s capital solely for school district business and did not hold any meetings about a potential campaign, he said.

Since Thursday, top Florida Democrats who had heard Carvalho was seriously thinking of running sounded jittery with excitement over the possibility — even though Carvalho, 52, is not currently a Democrat. A self-described social liberal and fiscal conservative, Carvalho is registered to vote without party affiliation, and he said Republicans have also reached out to gauge his political interest.

“Politically, I’m a free agent, accountable only to the people I serve,” he said. “And that’s a good position to be in.”

Carvalho’s name has frequently surfaced as a contender for various public offices over the past six or seven years, including Florida governor and county mayor. As the school-board appointed superintendent, Carvalho, 52, holds one of the most visible positions in local government. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, he might have made the short list for an Education Department appointment, perhaps even secretary.

A number of Democrats have already said they are interested in Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, and several have already formalized their candidacies. But none of the declared candidates so far would be as formidable a contender as Carvalho, which is why party insiders got so worked up over his potential candidacy even though it still seems like a long shot.

“It’s the highest honor to at least have your name mentioned,” Carvalho said. “I think this is a driven by and large by the popular uneasiness on issues like health care and education that are often approached by ideology rather than by an expert track record in addressing them.”

Another prominent Miami-Dade figure announced Friday he is running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat: County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. He would be the first big-name Republican to enter the 2018 race.

“I am definitely running,” Barreiro said, adding that he’s preparing filing paperwork and putting together a campaign team.

Barreiro isn’t term-limited until 2020, and because he’s not on the local ballot in 2018, he won’t have to resign from the commission run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

“All of my districts — in the state House, on the county commission — have always been 100 percent within this congressional district,” said Barreiro, a former state representative. “I've always eyed running for Congress. I didn't think it would be this soon.”

Barreiro said his interests at the federal level lie in housing and transportation. On the commission, he's sometimes bucked Republican orthodoxy and sided with labor unions. A group of activists tried to recall him in 2010, after he backed the creation of a new Miami Marlins ballpark, but they fell short in gathering petition signatures against him.

“I think I've worked across the aisle at the state level, and on the commission, and God willing I could do it in Congress,” Barreiro said.

An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that Carvalho had met with Democratic leaders in Washington to discuss his potential candidacy.

Miami Herald staff writers Kyra Gurney and David Smiley contributed to this report.