Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez began fund-raising calls this week for his 2016 reelection campaign, an early offensive that people close to the mayor said is designed to ward off major challengers.
In an interview, Gimenez said the fund-raising launch 20 months before the election was prompted by other political considerations — namely, Jeb Bush joining Marco Rubio as a likely presidential candidate from Miami.
“We felt there was a good possibility that we would have not one, but two candidates from Miami-Dade running for president,” Gimenez said Friday night. “We wanted to raise a war chest. We may be in competition for the same dollars.”
Ralph Garcia-Toledo, a lobbyist, contractor and Gimenez friend, is heading up the finance effort for Gimenez’s 2016 campaign. He said the plan is to get to donors before they commit too much to the presidential cycle.
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"The amount of money that will be drawn out of this community by Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush is going to be huge," said Garcia-Toledo, who is a registered lobbyist for the county Youth Fair and his own company, GT Construction. "We wanted to get an early start, and we did."
Gimenez himself began making calls this week, along with Garcia-Toledo and other fund-raisers. Privately, people in touch with the Gimenez camp said the stated goal for January is to raise at least $250,000, but a target well above $300,000 is likely.
Gimenez is a Republican, but holds a non-partisan post. That means his main reelection challenge comes in August 2016, when he can win outright if he takes 50 percent of the vote in the county's non-partisan primary. Should a crowded field rob any candidate of a majority, the top two vote-getters would face each other in a run-off on Election Day in November.
Allies of Gimenez say they're looking for an impressive fund-raising total to discourage would-be candidates from running. The most talked-about potential rival at the moment is school board member Raquel Regalado. Also mentioned by people in the Gimenez camp: former Democratic congressman Joe Garcia, and County Commissioner Xavier Suarez.
Gimenez has already said publicly he plans to run for a second full-term, though he hasn't made a formal announcement. Gimenez first won the office in 2011 following the recall of then-mayor Carlos Alvarez, and won election to a full term in 2012.
In the interview, Gimenez said he would detail his reelection message once he launches his campaign. “It’s competency. It’s honesty. It’s transparency,” Gimenez said. “And it’s moving Miami-Dade County forward.”
The Gimenez launch could bring some awkward timing, depending on who his early donors are. He recently won a hard-fought fight to secure a $9 million economic-development grant for SkyRise Miami, a tourist attraction being developed by one of his earliest political patrons, Jeff Berkowitz. Jorge Luis Lopez, a Miami-Dade lobbyist close to Gimenez, is representing Gimenez donor Wayne Rosen in his own pursuit of a grant for a project Rosen is building in Palmetto Bay.
Campaign records show the Gimenez effort raised nearly $4 million for the 2012 reelection, with $1.1 million going to the Gimenez campaign and another $2.6 million going to his allied political committee, Common Sense Now.
Garcia-Toledo said the 2016 effort will be backed by a new committee, Miami-Dade Residents First. Campaign records show it was formed Jan. 5 and that Rick Cook, a former Coral Gables fire chief, is the chairman.