Former Miami-Dade property appraiser Pedro J. Garcia is set to face state Rep. Eddy González in a Nov. 4 runoff for Miami-Dade Property Appraiser after they emerged as the top vote-getters in a crowded five-man field.
The race will be one of sharp contrasts: Garcia, 76, is a professional real estate appraiser with 38 years’ experience. He was the property appraiser from 2009-2012, then narrowly lost reelection.
González, 44, has no experience in real-estate appraisal: he serves as business development leader at CAC-Florida Medical Center. But the career politician, who faces term limits in the state Legislature, has fundraising power, organization and name recognition.
González has been chairman of the Miami-Dade delegation to the Legislature and a former Hialeah City Council member. He raised more than $270,000 for the campaign — more than all the other candidates combined. That included nearly $116,000 transferred from fundraising for a 2015 Hialeah City Council race he abandoned to pursue the property appraiser’s seat.
Garcia, who raised $110,000 as of his latest filing, led González in the low-turnout election late Tuesday night with some precincts still out.
But with the vote split among five candidates a runoff seemed inevitable from the start.
“I’m honored to be in a runoff. It’s my first time in a countywide race,’’ González said Tuesday evening. “We’ll hit the ground running again tomorrow and hopefully we’ll be in a position to win in November.’’
The unexpected opening for property appraiser emerged in January when Carlos López-Cantera resigned to be named Florida’s lieutenant governor just a year into his four-year term.
Garcia, a Cuban-American who owns Exclusive Realty Corp., was first to sign up to run for his old job, saying he wanted four more years to finish work he had started in establishing correct valuations and cracking down on homestead exemption fraud.
González, also Cuban-American, was the last of five to enter the race for the $168,000 a year post. He has played down the technical aspects of the county property appraiser’s job, asserting instead that he wants to focus on making the office more accessible to average property owners and to build on customer-friendly changes begun by Lopez-Cantera during his brief tenure in the post.
Not all of González’s record will buoy his chances: In 2013, González was a main backer of a House bill to provide taxpayer support for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium for the Miami Dolphins, but the bill was killed without a vote.
David Custin, who is a consultant leading strategy for González, said his candidate stayed away from criticism of Garcia during the first round, but expected the runoff would require more direct comparisons.
“We haven’t gone negative on Pedro. We’ll definitely be contrasting Eddy’s platform,’’ Custin said in anticipation of a runoff. “We’ll definitely be talking about what Pedro did and didn’t do.” A key job, Custin said, now is to raise more money to be able to get the message out.
Both candidates have focused heavily on Spanish-language radio and TV.
The property appraiser, a non-partisan office, sets the taxable value for nearly a million parcels of residential and commercial property in Miami-Dade and certifies the tax roll for cities and other taxing authorities. The office has a $33.7-million annual budget and more than 360 employees.
Yet the job, which became an elected position in Miami-Dade in 2008, seems mystifying to much of the populace. “The average person doesn’t understand what the property appraiser does,” said Barry Sharpe, who runs Property Tax Appeal Group, a firm that handles property owners appeals of their valuations to the Value Adjustment Board.
A huge volume of assessment appeals at the VAB, a separate county entity, and the high rate of success by property owners have cast doubt on the accuracy of county appraisals. The VAB, swamped with a backlog, finished 2012 appeals in May and began hearing appeals for the 2013 tax year in June. About 45 percent of the appeals have won reductions in assessment.
The other candidates were Albert J. Armada, a professional appraiser; Alejandro “Alex” Dominguez, a pharmaceutical executive and real estate agent, and Carlos Gobel, also an appraiser by profession.