Miami-Dade County

Miami GOP congressional candidates tussle in TV faceoff

Five Republicans jostling for their party’s nomination to run against Congressman Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, faced off Sunday for perhaps the final time before the Aug. 26 primary election.

The two candidates who have tussled the most — Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo and Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall — pointedly went after each other in their appearance on WPLG-ABC 10’s This Week in South Florida.

MacDougall’s strategy has been to try to topple Curbelo, the presumed frontrunner in the race, in an apparent effort to split the Hispanic vote enough among the four Hispanic candidates to leave MacDougall as the winner. He accused Curbelo of being untrustworthy because he will not disclose the clients of his media and public relations firm.

“He regulates hundreds of millions of dollars for the School Board,” MacDougall said. “Why is this not coming out?”

Curbelo called the jab “frivolous,” saying he discloses what he is required to by law. He put his firm, Capitol Gains, in his wife Cecilia’s name in 2009, citing advice from U.S. Senate attorneys. At the time, Curbelo was an aide to former Florida Republican Sen. George LeMieux.

“This is a frivolous attack from someone who doesn’t even live in our district,” Curbelo said, noting that MacDougall’s Saga Bay home is outside the borders of the 26th congressional district, which extends from Westchester to Key West. Federal law does not require members of Congress to reside in the districts they represent.

Curbelo then criticized his opponent for donating to the 2004 presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry. Campaign finance records show that MacDougall, who did not respond to the attack on Sunday’s show, contributed $1,500 from 2002 to 2004 to Kerry, a fellow Vietnam War veteran.

With MacDougall continuing his steady pokes, Curbelo has tried to play up his Republican establishment support from the likes of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is scheduled to campaign with Curbelo on Monday in West Kendall.

The other two candidates sitting at the table — former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez and attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck — did not engage in the sniping, sticking instead to relaying their platforms and positions to viewers.

In an unusual arrangement, the fifth candidate, David Rivera, the embattled former congressman trying to regain his old seat, did not appear in the television studio with his rivals. Instead, as he requested, he was patched in from outside the West Dade Regional Library early-voting site — purportedly because he was there meeting voters. As a result, the other contenders in the studio could not hear his responses.

After the show, co-host Glenna Milberg wrote on Twitter that Rivera didn’t end up campaigning at the site at all, despite the TV station’s agreeing to his request “in good faith.”

“#Staged,” she wrote.

Co-host Michael Putney asked Rivera about the federal campaign-finance case against Ana Alliegro, the Rivera friend who has implicated the former congressman in a scheme to illegally fund a Democratic ringer candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, in the 2012 election.

Rivera, who has yet to acknowledge that he is a target of the federal investigation, ignored the question, as he has done since announcing his surprise candidacy in May. He later claimed to suspend his campaign, only to return a few weeks later with automated calls that have yet to appear on his finance reports.

“Michael, I don’t think you’re living in reality,” Rivera told Putney. “The more I talk to voters, the more they tell me the No. 1 issue in this campaign is jobs and the economy.”

When Milberg repeated the question, calling Alliegro’s upcoming trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 25, “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Rivera retorted: “Maybe for you.”

Putney then asked MacDougall whether it was proper for Rivera to appear on television campaigning in a white U.S. House of Representatives polo shirt identifying him as “Congressman David Rivera.”

“I’m not sure that it would be appropriate, but I think that’s the choice that he has,” MacDougall said.