Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez launched his reelection campaign Thursday, touting a platform of lower taxes, good government and a growing economy.
“I have a clear record of accomplishments. I have a clear record of keeping my promises,” said Gimenez, a former Miami firefighter who rose to become chief and then city manager before successfully running for the County Commission. “I learned my craft on the streets of Miami, and worked my way up through the ranks to become the mayor of Miami-Dade County. I know how government works.”
Gimenez, 61, faces at least one challenger: Raquel Regalado, 41, a two-term school board member and radio host who is also the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. Xavier Suarez, 66, the former Miami mayor who now holds the County Commission seat that Gimenez gave up to run for county mayor after the 2011 recall of Carlos Alvarez, has been running attack ads against Gimenez as he considers a mayoral run, too. Gimenez’s 2012 opponent, former commission chairman Joe Martinez, 58, said Thursday he also is considering a Gimenez challenge.
With less than a year before the first votes are cast in the 2016 mayoral race, Gimenez outlined a reelection message grounded in the tax cut that helped propel him to office in 2011. Shortly after becoming mayor, Gimenez reversed a property-tax hike imposed by his predecessor and then implemented a broad austerity program of pay cuts and spending reductions to compensate for the lost revenue.
Three of the four accomplishments listed in his campaign’s first press release occurred during his first year as mayor: reversing the 12 percent increase in property taxes that helped spark Alvarez’s recall, consolidating 42 county departments into 25, and cutting the mayor’s salary in half to about $150,000 a year. The fourth accomplishment stemmed from the 2011 tax cut and subsequent spending reductions, with Gimenez’s campaign touting his placing “the county budget on a sustainable path without raising taxes.”
“I said that I was going to reduce taxes on Miami-Dade citizens, which we did,” Gimenez said during a string of one-one-one interviews held in the hours after an aide filed the mayor’s reelection papers. “We put about a billion dollars back into the economy that would not have been in the economy. It would have been gobbled up by government.”
Though Thursday was his first day as an official candidate for the 2016 mayoral race, Gimenez has spent the year raising money for his reelection effort. His political committee, Miami-Dade Residents First, brought in $1.3 million since January, much of it from companies and developers with interests before the county. Gimenez solicited donors in the effort, and the totals put him well ahead in the money race. This year, Regalado has raised about $520,000 and Suarez about $370,000.
It was Gimenez’s professional fundraiser, Brian Goldmeier, who filed Gimenez’s candidacy papers Thursday, according to a campaign spokesman, and then sent out an email to would-be donors inviting them to an Oct. 29 Gimenez event with a suggested contribution of $1,000 a person.
“Remember, we are required to file campaign reports monthly now, so we need to make sure we have a great showing for our first report in October,” Goldmeier wrote. “Please mark your calendar!”
This will be Gimenez’s third mayoral campaign, since his 2011 election only covered the remaining year in Alvarez’s term. He won a full four-year term in 2012 against Martinez, and can run one more time under the county’s term-limit rules. A Republican, Gimenez holds a nonpartisan post that could be decided in an August 2016 primary open to all candidates for mayor. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the Aug. 30 primary vote, the top two finishers would compete in a November run-off that coincides with the presidential election.
For his second full term, Gimenez said his priorities would be maintaining a responsible budget approach, increasing growth at PortMiami and Miami International Airport, addressing climate-change issues and expanding economic opportunity across the county.
Gimenez begins the race well ahead in both polling and campaign cash, and on the same day his 2016 budget took effect, with increased spending, restored services and flat property-tax rates. But the election season comes as his administration is still trying to negotiate new three-year contracts with four powerful unions, and as polling data shows Miami-Dade voters largely undecided on who they want to lead Florida’s largest local government through 2020.
A July poll on a two-way mayoral race found Gimenez ahead of Regalado by 23 points, but still in second place behind the undecided category.
“Nothing has really changed,” said Fernand Amandi, of Bendixen Amandi, a leading Democratic polling firm in Miami that conducted the July survey. “Gimenez is not seen as invulnerable or a world-beater, but right now nobody has stepped up to provide a significant challenge to him. The Raquel Regalado campaign has not made a lot of noise.”
This week, Regalado, who is also a Republican, launched an ad campaign on Miami bus shelters, and released a video criticizing Gimenez. On Thursday, she issued a brief statement on Gimenez’s announcement: “Now that he is officially a candidate, I’m looking forward to many debates.”