Miami-Dade County

Poll: Gimenez leading Miami-Dade mayoral race, but undecided takes top spot

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez Miami

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez enjoys a sizable lead over challenger Raquel Regalado in his bid for reelection, according to a new poll that also found strong support for the massive mall he recruited to the county and his body-camera program for police.

Regalado, heir to one of the most prominent names in Miami politics, trailed Gimenez by 23 points in a survey done by Bendixen & Amandi International for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Of the 600 registered county voters polled on their pick in the mayoral race, 40 percent chose Gimenez and 17 percent chose Regalado, a two-term school board member and daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

While Gimenez easily topped his lone challenger in the survey, 43 percent of respondents opted not to pick a candidate. That left Gimenez, in office since 2011, the second-place finisher behind the undecided category with 13 months to go before the August 2016 primary that could decide the race.

“I think it says that the mayor is still vulnerable to a challenger,” Fernand Amandi said of his Coconut Grove firm’s poll. “Its just that the poll doesn’t seem to suggest Raquel Regalado is that challenger.”

The poll did not include County Commissioner Xavier Suarez as an option. The former Miami mayor said he is considering a Gimenez challenge in 2016. Regalado is the only elected official to file for the mayoral race, though Gimenez has said he is running for a second — and final — four-year term.

The poll was conducted July 8-14, on the heels of Gimenez’s July 7 announcement of a 2016 budget proposal with flat tax rates and expanded services funded through a windfall in property revenues. A Gimenez political aide dismissed the high number of undecideds as mostly a measure of how early it is in the election cycle. Regalado noted a Bendixen poll of likely voters in January showed her within six points of Gimenez.

The latest survey showed Gimenez beating Regalado in every demographic group, including a 36-19 percentage point advantage with female voters. If elected, Regalado would be the first female mayor of Miami-Dade.

“We haven’t started our campaign, but I am confident that once we do and inform Miami-Dade County residents about Carlos Gimenez’s record and about my record, I will win this election,” Regalado said in a statement.

Jesse Manzano-Plaza, the consultant working for a Gimenez political committee, said in his statement: “The fact that Mayor Gimenez leads among all demographics in this poll 13 months before the election, shows that Miami-Dade residents across the county support his strong leadership and responsible budgeting principles.”

Voters gave Gimenez a 50 percent job-approval rating, with 39 percent disapproving of his performance as mayor. On countywide issues, they largely approve of various initiatives that Gimenez has either championed or supported in public comments:

▪  Gimenez spent a year negotiating a land-sale deal for American Dream Miami, a 4 million-square-foot entertainment and shopping destination that would bring the nation's largest mall to Northwest Miami-Dade, near Miami Lakes and Hialeah.

The project has been hailed as an historic boost for Miami-Dade's employment base, and also slammed as a pending traffic nightmare. Regalado chose the mall as the subject of her first single-issue campaign video, criticizing Gimenez on the project a few days before officially joining the race. “We should focus on diversifying the economy” instead of pursuing more low-wage retail and hospitality jobs, Regalado said.

In the poll, 67 percent of respondents said they approved of the “MegaMall Project,” while 27 percent opposed.

Sara Rodriguez, 49-year-old banker in Kendall, was one of the respondents who supported the mall. “I think it’s a good idea. It will bring some jobs to the area,” she said. And the added traffic? “I live in Kendall,” she said. “It’s going to be far away from here.”

▪ The poll was completed before Friday’s announcement by Tomás Regalado of an agreement with David Beckham and partners to begin talks for a soccer stadium on city property next to Marlins Park. Gimenez was Beckham’s leading political patron in early 2014, when the soccer star wanted to put a stadium on the county’s PortMiami.

That deal fizzled, and on Friday Beckham partner Marcelo Claure confirmed that the Marlins Park area is the now the group’s preferred site. While the University of Miami had been in talks with Beckham about partnering in a larger stadium that could also accommodate the school’s football team, Claure on Friday said the city negotiations will only be for a soccer venue to be built with private dollars.

A joint UM-Beckham stadium next to Marlins Park enjoyed overwhelming support in the poll, with 78 percent in favor and 18 percent against.

▪ Miami-Dade voters gave strong support to legalizing Uber and its smaller competitor, Lyft. The companies rely on freelance drivers using their own cars, booking passengers exclusively through cellphone apps. Fares are based on demand, with prices fluctuating throughout the day.

The companies compete with taxis, and need changes to local for-hire regulations to operate. The taxi industry sees Uber and Lyft as unfair competition, since they wouldn’t be subject to regulations requiring 24-hour insurance coverage, flat fares, cash transactions and other rules.

Efforts to pass pro-Uber legislation have died at the county commission, and Miami-Dade regulators are issuing citations to the companies’ drivers. Gimenez endorses legalizing the companies’ business practices, and the poll shows public support for that position. Seventy percent of respondents endorse “allowing private rideshare such as Uber and Lyft to operate legally in Miami-Dade County.” Twenty-five percent opposed.

▪ For more than a year, Gimenez has waged a high-profile fight against Miami-Dade’s police union over purchasing body cameras for patrol officers. Union leaders criticized the plan as prioritizing expensive technology for an under-staffed police force just to score political points. But with the White House and civil-rights groups touting cameras as a way to address police misconduct claims, Gimenez argued the devices could help avoid the kind of racial trauma seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo.

The poll found strong support for body cameras, with 77 percent in favor and 19 percent against.

Both Gimenez and Regalado are Republicans, and the Bendixen & Amandi firm is a leading Democratic pollster in the Miami area. Amandi said the survey shows a Democrat has a good shot at challenging Gimenez, given there’s the potential for the next mayor to be elected the same day a massive Democratic turnout is expected in Miami-Dade for the 2016 presidential election.

Aside from Suarez, an independent, former commission chairman Joe Martinez is the only prominent politician to say publicly he is considering a Gimenez challenge. Martinez failed to unseat Gimenez in the 2012 mayoral race, and lost in a Republican congressional primary last year.

Countywide offices face non-partisan primaries on Aug. 30, 2016, and anyone topping 50 percent wins outright and avoids a November run-off on Election Day. In a two-person race, that makes the primary decisive since there isn’t a way for multiple candidates to deny the front-runner a majority of the vote.

“I’m getting a lot of support for the idea of running for mayor,” Suarez said. “I don’t feel this is a good time to decide.”