It took Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez less than four months to raise $1 million for his reelection effort, a fund-raising haul that puts him well ahead of rivals in the 2016 mayoral race.
But with 16 months left to go before the first votes are counted, the chase for campaign cash is accelerating. Regalado, a two-term school board member, raised slightly less than Gimenez did last month, and Suarez, a county commissioner, had the best April of the three.
The latest reports show the different tacks under way from the trio. Gimenez has been calling deep-pocketed donors, many of whom have business ties with Miami-Dade. Regalado, daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, enjoys support from some of the city’s top developers but also has a campaign committee collecting small donations from individuals.
Suarez, facing reelection in 2016, raised most of his April money by having an actual donor reception — even though it’s not yet clear which office he’ll be seeking.
“I was hoping one event would be catalytic, and it pretty much was,” Suarez said of the April 23 gathering in Coconut Grove.
Regalado filed to run for mayor on March 9, and has raised about $174,000 this year between her campaign account and an allied committee. She took in roughly $110,000 in April alone, a little shy of the $125,000 that Gimenez raised through his political committee.
Among Gimenez’s top contributors: a medical company with ties to a leading retail outlet at the county’s Miami International Airport ($25,000); Coastal Construction, a top commercial builder in Miami-Dade ($20,000); and Bilzin Sumberg, a Miami law firm that’s home to some of the top county lobbyists ($16,200), according to a Miami Herald analysis of campaign-finance reports.
In a statement, Regalado said she was “just getting started” in her run and characterized Gimenez as relying on businesses with ties to county government.
“I have dozens of residents throughout Miami-Dade County whose donations have nothing to do with doing business with the county, but rather [are] all about changing county leadership,” she said.
Regalado’s campaign account listed 180 donations of $20 or less. As an unannounced candidate, Gimenez has yet to directly solicit voters for money. The Gimenez camp has not said when the mayor plans to formally enter the 2016 race.
A billionaire is Regalado’s top backer. Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, who is earning national attention for reportedly pledging $10 million to Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, has endorsed Regalado and is now her top contributor. Companies and individuals tied to Braman have donated $36,000 to her campaign and allied committee, Serving Miamians.
Braman funded the 2011 recall of then-mayor Carlos Alvarez, and Gimenez won the election that year to serve out the remainder of Alvarez’s term. Gimenez won reelection in 2012, and Braman gave $1,000 to that campaign. He and Gimenez split on county subsidies for the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium in 2013.
Regalado’s second-highest donor was Corigin Real Estate, which gave $35,000 in April. The New York company has a high-rise project in Miami called 1201 Brickell. The firm also gave $10,000 to Suarez last month and $15,000 to Gimenez in January.
Third on Regalado’s donor list was a Miami company called Baroque Properties, which gave a total of $12,000.
For Gimenez, 2015 started out with a surge of contributions as his political committee, Miami-Dade Residents First, took in $500,000 roughly two weeks after being formed in January. The pace has moderated since, with the committee taking in an average of about $165,000 every 30 days.
“We are grateful to the community for their support on behalf of our efforts to highlight the successes of Mayor Carlos Gimenez,” said Jesse Manzano-Plaza, Gimenez’s 2012 campaign manager and a lobbyist now working part time as spokesman for Miami-Dade Residents first.
So far, Gimenez’s top contributor is Central Med Distribution of Hollywood. Corporate records show the company is run by a member of the Falic family, which also owns Duty Free Americas, a major MIA retailer. Both companies share an office building. Executives at Central Med and Duty Free were not available for interviews Tuesday.
For its analysis, the Herald groups donations when they can be linked by corporate records to large businesses, nonprofits or well-known individuals. The Braman tally, for instance, came from 12 different donations through 11 donors, including his wife, Irma, and various dealerships.
April was the strongest month in 2015 for both Regalado and Suarez, who is raising money through his long-standing political committee, Imagine Miami. He raised $159,000 in April. Suarez used Imagine Miami in 2012 to run for his commission seat, and has raised a total of about $277,000 since then.
Even if he opts not to join the mayoral race, Suarez may need a deep war chest, with Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner and Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff both reportedly eying runs for his commission seat. Suarez is planning a larger fundraiser October 10, and said Tuesday he may not even decide by then whether to take on Gimenez.
“There’s still a possibility of running for mayor,” said Suarez, who holds the commission seat that Gimenez surrendered to run for mayor. “I don’t really know if I’m going to do it or not.”
This article was updated to correct Irma Braman's name.