Miami-Dade County

Barreiro's top donor for Miami-Dade commission is her husband's congressional campaign

Bruno Barreiro, seen here at a Miami Beach senior center with his wife, Zoraida Barreiro, will have to run for Congress without the power of incumbency now that he's out as a Miami-Dade commissioner and his wife lost a bid to claim his seat.
Bruno Barreiro, seen here at a Miami Beach senior center with his wife, Zoraida Barreiro, will have to run for Congress without the power of incumbency now that he's out as a Miami-Dade commissioner and his wife lost a bid to claim his seat. dhanks@miamiherald.com

Zoraida Barreiro didn't have to look far for the top donor in her campaign to succeed her husband, Bruno Barreiro, on the Miami-Dade County Commission. His congressional campaign recently donated nearly $100,000 to her county effort.

The $95,000 infusion of cash from the Barreiro congressional campaign to a committee supporting the Barreiro county race captures a husband-and-wife effort that has Zoraida inheriting many of Bruno's donors from his 20 years on the County Commission.

Having secured support from many of Miami-Dade's top donors, she's out-raising opponent Eileen Higgins nearly two-to-one in a June 19 runoff election to fill the remaining two years of Bruno Barreiro's term as the county's District 5 commissioner.

"I don't think donors want major change," said Esther Nuhfer, a veteran campaign fundraiser tapped by Zoraida Barreiro for her race. "Donors are happy. But let me tell you, just because you're giving Zoraida Barreiro a check does not mean you're going to get what you want."

The fundraising reports available on state and county websites at the close of business Friday hint at some of the closed-door maneuvering in a race for a rare open seat on the 13-member County Commission.

Higgins finished first in a four-candidate primary for the nonpartisan District 5 seat on May 22, a surprise showing that helped send donors her way.

Landmark, an affordable-housing developer with Miami-Dade contracts, gave Higgins $5,000 for the District 5 race in June. Landmark has been a top donor to Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat who has been contacting donors and asking them to support Higgins, also a Democrat. Commissioner Xavier Suarez, an independent, is doing the same thing.

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Eileen Higgins topped Zoraida Barreiro in the special election to fill the District 5 seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission. It was vacated by Bruno Barreiro, Zoraida Barreiro's husband, so that he could run for Congress. CHARLES TRAINOR JR. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The donations put Landmark in the minority, as a frequent donor to incumbent commissioners that is now supporting Higgins. The reports show Zoraida Barreiro is the apparent pick of the county's donor circuit of lobbyists, developers and Miami-Dade vendors.

Of the 10 largest donors in the 2016 campaign cycle for county offices, at least half are backing Barreiro and none has given to Higgins, a marketing executive and community activist running her first race.

The Barreiro donors who were on the Top 10 in 2016 including Duty Free Americas, a top retailer at the county's main airport, with $20,000 in donations; and county bus operator Transportation America, with $5,000 for Barreiro.

Miami-Dade's Democratic Party cast the race for the nonpartisan District 5 seat as a way for local voters to push back on the Republican Party and President Donald Trump, who was featured in one of the Higgins campaign ads before the primary. The local Republican Party has joined in, sending out an email blasting Higgins and declaring "We Need to Stop the Democrats."

While the Republican Party hasn't given to Barreiro, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party is the third-largest donor to Higgins with $11,000 in support.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican who raised a record-breaking $7 million for his 2016 reelection run, has registered to raise money for the committee backing Barreiro's election, Government with Transparency. Frank Carollo, a former Miami commissioner helping run the Barreiro campaign, is also tapping his political committee for donations and ads.

The Friday reports weren't complete, with the Barreiro campaign's late-May results not available for public inspection. Other state committees will file their reports next week, detailing revenue and expenditures for a race that so far has reported nearly $500,000 in donations.

Zoraida Barreiro, a former Miami City Commission candidate who helps run the Barreiro family health business, reported about $365,000 from her campaign and Government with Transparency. Higgins has raised about $119,000 from her campaign. She registered to raise money for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, which gave her $11,000. The party's most recent disclosure form showing donors runs through March 31. Higgins entered the race April 9.

She's her own top backer in the campaign, having contributed $15,000 in her own funds to the race. Close behind are donations tied to Gary Ressler, who owns the Miami real estate firm Tilia and is listed as an owner of trailer-park businesses. Higgins said she knows Ressler because they both serve on the same committee for Miami's Downtown Development Authority. Companies tied to Ressler gave Higgins $14,000.

Higgins said she tries to spend up to two hours a day calling potential donors. "I probably should be doing it more," she said. "But it's not fun."

Both camps reported money from organized labor, with some unions endorsing Barreiro and others backing Higgins.

So far, no one in the reports has given more money in the race to succeed Bruno Barreiro than has Bruno Barreiro's congressional campaign with its donations to Government with Transparency. He's running for the Republican nomination in Florida's 27th Congressional District in the race to succeed Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also a Republican.

Several of his would-be Democratic rivals have given money to Higgins, with front-runner Donna Shalala, a former University of Miami president, giving $2,000.

His congressional campaign's financial disclosures only run through March, so it's not known how much of a hit the $95,000 outflow means to the Barreiro federal war chest. Through March, he reported about $420,000 cash in the bank, and $95,000 amounts to about 20 percent of that.

Bruno Barreiro said he sees his congressional race bleeding over into his wife's commission race, with District 27 rivals and the Democratic Party hoping to defeat him by proxy in the county election.

"Unfortunately, Zori has been targeted by the Democrats because of District 27," he said. "Would they have gotten as involved if it wasn't my wife?"

Zoraida Barreiro was not available for an interview Friday.

In giving up his commission seat early, Barreiro also surrendered the fundraising leverage that came with his District 5 post among companies doing business with the county. Should his wife win, the spillover effect from donors to his congressional campaign could be a significant boost through the August primary.

J.C. Planas, a former Florida representative and election lawyer, said federal and state law allow congressional candidates to give to other committees. He also said it makes political sense for the congressional candidate.

"Bruno needs Zoraida to win to help his chances," Planas said. "You're dealing with a campaign with the name Barreiro. If you have a special election campaign promoting the name Barrerio — and getting a Barreiro elected to the County Commission — that helps."

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