Miami-Dade County

Right after 2014 election, Miami’s campaign season begins

Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez
Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez El Nuevo Herald

For most the state of Florida, November’s elections brought an end to a hectic political season. But not at Miami City Hall.

In the Magic City, campaigns are just getting started, and the path to Election Day 2015 and beyond figures to be a long, winding road.

During the upcoming year, two of the city’s elected officials face reelection. Two more who are term-limited may soon be immersed in the campaigns of immediate family members. And while far off, a 2017 mayoral election could pit commissioner against commissioner.

County races for mayor and possibly a Miami-area commission seat in 2016 also loom, making for interesting politics at Dinner Key.

“There’s tons of jockeying,” said Luis Gazitua, a government affairs attorney and local lobbyist. “Find a race, it all goes back to City Hall.”

Six days after the Nov. 4 election, Raquel Regalado, the daughter and campaign manager of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, acknowledged she may challenge Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016. And on Monday, Miami activist Grace Solares filed papers to run for the city’s powerful District 2 commission seat, currently occupied by term-limited Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

That latter race — which is expected to feature Sarnoff’s wife as the frontrunner — figures to be among the most interesting and important in Miami-Dade County in 2015. Whoever wins will earn four years representing downtown Miami, Brickell and Coconut Grove, where development is booming.

As a former president of Miami Neighborhoods United and current head of the Urban Environment League, Solares has some name recognition and a grassroots network, but zero experience as a political candidate. Others are expected to run — including Miami Marathon co-founder Frankie Ruiz — but none with the machinery and fundraising structure that comes with being the wife of a standing commissioner.

Teresa Sarnoff, who like Solares, has never run for public office, told the Miami Herald she hasn’t made up her mind yet — “I want to make a decision by the end of the year.” However, multiple sources say she’s already decided and is waiting for the right time to announce. She would likely be a favorite to win.

“If she chooses to run, Mrs. Sarnoff would start with an advantage as a quasi-incumbent because she’d be obviously running for Commissioner Sarnoff’s third term,” said Fernand Amandi, a managing partner of polling firm Bendixen & Amandi International.

While Teresa Sarnoff doesn’t have an official campaign account, her husband has $115,000 shelled away in an electioneering communications organization thanks to large donations over the last 18 months from entities tied to Related Group and Miami Worldcenter, as well as law firms and billboard companies.

Sarnoff isn’t the only Miami commissioner raising campaign funds.

Though he doesn’t yet have an opponent, Commission Chairman Wifredo “Willy” Gort had drummed up $47,000 in hard contributions as of Nov. 1. And while Francis Suarez has yet to open a campaign account to keep his District 4 seat, he has more than $300,000 in soft money stashed away from his aborted 2013 mayoral bid.

Of course, how long Suarez would stay in his seat remains a question. One District 4 candidate who has tens of thousands in campaign funds, Ralph Rosado, plans to skip the 2015 race, keep the money and wait for Suarez to leave the post, likely before his term is up in 2019.

“A little bird told me it may not be four years,” said Rosado.

What are the possibilities? Some believe Suarez could run for his father’s county commission seat if Xavier Suarez challenges Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016. Many, though, expect the younger Suarez to run for city mayor in 2017.

He said in a recent interview that it’s too early to speculate, but he’ll definitely open a reelection account by January.

“I think people are kind of exhausted from politics this year,” he said. “It’s been a pretty intense political year from a spending perspective.”

In Miami, the lull doesn’t figure to last long, if at all. Already, not-so-subtle signs of campaigning are emerging through the course of city business.

Last month, for instance, Mayor Regalado came out strongly against a request from Miami-Dade Mayor Gimenez for $9 million in county funds for SkyRise, a 1,000-foot observation tower approved by Miami voters in August. Regalado said he opposed the property-tax-funded subsidy because he campaigned for SkyRise on a promise that the project wouldn’t cost the Miami public anything.

But some felt it was little more than a veiled attempt to chip away at Gimenez’s credibility, as Regalado’s school board member daughter eyed a run at Gimenez’s seat in 2016. At the time, Raquel Regalado also was fighting against a Gimenez-supported $393 million bond initiative to raise money for a new courthouse.

Last week, the younger Regalado confirmed she may try to challenge Gimenez. Such a campaign potentially puts City and County Hall at odds, possibly straining relationships between governments that often need to work in conjunction.

“I thought I didn’t have any more campaigns because I’m out of here in 2017. But if she runs, well, I’ll be front and center. And yes, it would ruffle feathers,” said Mayor Regalado.

The mayor believes things will get interesting soon at City Hall. With the mayor term-limited, many expect Suarez and Commissioner Frank Carollo to make a bid for his seat — potentially against the mayor’s daughter if a campaign against Gimenez doesn’t work out.

A potential morass to be sure. But the mayor has found one silver lining.

“To tell you the truth, I am happy that next year is an election year,” he said. “Because no one will try to raise taxes.”

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