Miami-Dade County

A former GOP congressman who took on Trump won’t run for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020

Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican who lost his congressional seat in 2018, said on Aug. 22, 2019, that he will not run for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020.
Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican who lost his congressional seat in 2018, said on Aug. 22, 2019, that he will not run for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020. El Nuevo Herald file

Carlos Curbelo, the former GOP congressman from Miami whose antagonism with President Donald Trump helped land him a commentary gig with MSNBC, announced Thursday he won’t run for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020.

Curbelo, who lost his seat in the 2018 “blue wave” to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, told supporters in an email he had spent “over a year’s time” considering a bid to succeed a term-limited Carlos Gimenez as mayor of Florida’s most populous county.

“Although I’m confident in my ability to win the election, the campaign would be long and grueling,” he wrote. “And while I’ve always been up for a challenge, the timing is just not right for our family.”

“Last year’s election result was of course disappointing, but in many ways I have come to realize it was a blessing. I’ve been home a lot more this year,” continued Curbelo, the 39-year-old father of two girls, ages 7 and 9. “I’ve reconnected with a lot of people I had lost touch with, and I’ve been able to pursue opportunities that were impossible before.”

Curbelo’s announcement removes one of a few notable names who remain question marks for the 2020 mayoral race, the first to succeed a term-limited mayor since Alex Penelas left office in 2004.

Penelas is running again, lining up consultants and tapping a professional fundraiser for his political committee, but hasn’t filed his candidacy papers yet.

The only officeholder to file is Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, joining former commissioner Juan C. Zapata and first-time candidate Monique Nicole Barley. Fellow commissioner Xavier Suarez, whose son is Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, is expected to announce his county mayoral run as soon as Friday. Another commissioner, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, has said he plans to run, as has Commissioner Jean Monestime.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, lieutenant governor under Gov. Rick Scott, has also privately said he’s exploring a run. Alberto Carvalho, the county’s school chief, and Rebeca Sosa, a county commissioner, are both potential candidates but have said they won’t run.

While the mayor’s race is officially nonpartisan, Democrats hope to use their significant edge in Miami-Dade voter rolls to secure an edge in the contest to succeed Gimenez, a Republican. Barley, Levine Cava, Penelas and Monestime are the Democrats in the race. Carvalho and Suarez, both independents, the only non-Republicans among the remaining candidates and would-be candidates in the mix.

Curbelo, a former Miami-Dade school board member, has tried to position himself as a moderate with criticism for both parties. But as a Republican congressman representing a Democratic district that went for Hillary Clinton by 16 points in 2016, Curbelo got the most attention for criticizing Trump.

At the White House the day after Curbelo’s two-point loss to Mucarsel-Powell, Trump mocked the Miami Republican as one of a few GOP candidates who criticized him and ended up losing to Democrats. Trump mispronounced Curbelo’s name as “Cue-bella.”

Since leaving office, Curbelo has been making paid appearances on MSNBC and landed work in the lobbying industry, including serving as an adviser for the Cannabis Trade Federation, which lobbies for the marijuana industry. Curbelo said he has not done any lobbying work.

Weeks ago, Florida Politics revealed a longtime Curbelo friend and current business partner with no political experience had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money and compensation from Curbelo’s congressional office for a staff job as an external policy adviser. The friend, dentist Jean-Paul Chavez, worked as a fundraiser for Curbelo’s congressional bid, Curbelo said. Curbelo noted the arrangements were legal, and did not prompt even a complaint to election regulators.

“I am grateful to my entire team — including a number of close friends — for all they did to support our efforts, and I only wish we could have compensated them more for the time, work, and the sacrifices they made,” he said at the time.

While Curbelo was considered a potential candidate for Miami-Dade mayor, his name has also been floated as a possible contender for Suarez’s County Commission seat in 2020.

The District 7 seat is the one Gimenez used to hold, and he might run for it again against current candidates Cindy Lerner, a former Pinecrest mayor, and Raquel Regalado, a former school board member who challenged Gimenez in the 2016 mayoral race. Curbelo said Thursday he does plan to run for office again, but doubts it will be in 2020. “It’s very unlikely,” he said.