Miami-Dade County

Beckham soccer deal with schools sparks mayoral maelstrom

Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez speaks to the media after speaking at the 2014 State of the County Address in Hialeah on Wednesday 26, 2014
Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez speaks to the media after speaking at the 2014 State of the County Address in Hialeah on Wednesday 26, 2014 EL NUEVO HERALD

David Beckham’s fledgling stadium deal with Miami-Dade’s school system got swept into a political maelstrom Friday, with the mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade accusing the other of putting personal ambitions ahead of bringing pro soccer back to the city.

In a series of interviews, the reliable drama that is stadium politics in South Florida played out in Miami’s signature theater: Spanish-language talk radio. There were allegations of pataleta (tantrum) calumnia (slander) and politiquería (politicking), ratcheting up the stakes surrounding David Beckham’s sudden shift from the county to the school board as the chosen landlord for his soccer stadium.

Carlos Gimenez, Miami-Dade’s mayor, went on WURN-AM (1020)’s Actualidad Radio shortly after 7 a.m.. Friday and accused his Miami counterpart, Tomás Regalado, of “petty” politicking. He said the Miami mayor orchestrated the Beckham switch in order to boost the fortunes of daughter Raquel Regalado. She is using her seat on the school board as a springboard to run against Gimenez in 2016 for county mayor.

“It wasn't surprising to me because I know the mayor, Regalado. I know that for him everything is political, instead of what is to the benefit of the people or the city,” Gimenez said. “For him, it’s political, and he and his daughter are politicians. That’s what they do.”

About an hour later, Tomás Regalado was on Actualidad to accuse Gimenez of being bitter over a Regalado getting credit for bringing soccer back to Miami. One solution, Regalado said, was to take a photo where “Mayor Gimenez stands next to Beckham and I stand in the back. Then he’ll get over the tantrum.”

Soon after, Raquel Regalado, whose district includes the soccer site, was on the phone with Univision’s WQBA-AM (1140), following Gimenez’s own interview on the station. She accused Gimenez of slander over speculation that she was interested in spending tax dollars on a school stadium, and of insisting that he remain at the center of the action.

“As usual, Carlos Gimenez is misinforming people, creating intrigue,” she said. “Because he wants to be a protagonist.”

The broadcast broadsides ricocheted through Spanish-language radio, where the political jabs tend to be sharper than when elected officials appear on English-language shows. And they also revealed some high-level hostility surrounding the latest abrupt shift in Beckham’s protracted quest to land a soccer stadium in Miami.

Beckham and his investors want a countywide government to own the 30,000-seat stadium they plan to build next to Marlins Park so they won’t have to pay millions of dollars in local property taxes each year. Miami owns most of the land in the proposed stadium footprint, so Beckham’s group has been negotiating with Tomás Regalado and other city officials since the summer.

The city can’t grant the same tax exemption the county can, so the stated plan had been for Miami-Dade to assume ownership of the stadium. That changed abruptly this week, with schools chief Alberto Carvalho having his first face-to-face meeting with team executives Tuesday morning to pitch the schools system owning the stadium instead of Miami-Dade.

As usual, Carlos Gimenez is misinforming people, creating intrigue. Because he wants to be a protagonist.

School Board Member Raquel Regalado

In exchange, Carvalho is asking for Beckham to build a magnet school inside the stadium complex, become a major sponsor of extracurricular activities and provide the school system with the kind of large venue it needs for graduations and other major events.

Beckham’s group publicly embraced the idea, and now are under pressure to negotiate a deal by December in order to ready Miami referendum in March to approve the plan.

Behind the scenes, Gimenez was privately seething when told of the change by Beckham’s local representatives at dinner Monday, according to sources on both sides. He described it as another effort by Tomás Regalado to use his position as Miami’s mayor to bolster his daughter’s campaign

With Gimenez’s reaction, Beckham’s local negotiators, including former Miami Beach mayor Neisen Kasdin, worried the county mayor would try to scuttle the new deal. But by Tuesday, Gimenez sent Kasdin a text saying he would be the “bigger man” and not fight the arrangement. Gimenez said Friday it was a reference to Tomás Regalado.

“It’s unfortunate that politics is getting in the middle of this,” Gimenez told Univision. “But the ones who let politics in were the Regalados.”

Gimenez said a member of Beckham’s group told him that Miami insisted they drop Miami-Dade as the landlord in favor of the school system. Both Regalados denied the allegation. Beckham’s Miami spokesman, Tadd Schwartz, declined to comment.

In interviews, both Regalados said Gimenez was failing in his bid to find Beckham a stadium. The soccer star famously posed with a soccer ball and the county mayor in February 2014 as he began a campaign, backed by Gimenez, to build a stadium at PortMiami. But county commissioners blocked that plan.

A second try for downtown’s Museum Park faltered when Tomás Regalado withdrew his support for the idea. Both Regalados on Friday cited Gimenez’s support of a privately owned site in Overtown for Beckham, saying it added to the county mayor’s reluctance for the Marlins Park neighborhood.

It’s unfortunate that politics is getting in the middle of this. But the ones who let politics in were the Regalados.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

“Gimenez insisted that it be Overtown,” Raquel Regalado said on Univision. “Now, if they got tired of Carlos Gimenez's song and dance about how they shouldn't negotiate with the city of Miami, that's a separate issue.”

A Gimenez spokesman said Friday the mayor was always supportive of the Marlins Park plan. “Unfortunately,” said spokesman Michael Hernández, “that’s another inaccurate statement by the Regalado family.”

As the dust settles on the political drama, the question remains whether Friday’s contretemps will affect Beckham’s stadium deal. “There is a lot of political intrigue that I am going to try and stay above,” Carvalho said. “I understand it, but I am going to stay above it.”

While Miami owns the bulk of the public land targeted for the stadium, Beckham needs a chunk of county-owned real estate that’s currently part of the Marlins Park campus, according to a draft summary of the city deal released Monday (and which still listed Miami-Dade as the presumed landlord).

“I have to put aside politics,” Gimenez told Actualidad Miami. “I have a responsibility, and I know my responsibilities well.”

Asked later why he went public with his criticism, Gimenez said: “People have to understand what really is going on. And how people will stoop to anything for politics.”

Miami Herald staff writers David Smiley and Christina Veiga contributed to this report.