The latest unknown challenger to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez posted an impressive fund-raising debut this week.
Regalado, 41, a two-term school board member and daughter of Miami’s mayor, remains far ahead of Santamaría in terms of campaign dollars left to spend. But the newcomer’s fund-raising splash signals she could have company as a well-funded rival to Gimenez, 62.
“I’m not concerned about the money,” Santamaría said during a recent interview at a La Carreta restaurant in Doral, where he dined with a reporter as three campaign aides sat at an adjoining table. He described one as a full-time campaign staffer and two as volunteers. He said he had a morning of campaign events that included interviews and meetings with supporters.
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“The money will be a consequence of me really inspiring people,” he said. “If I fulfill my goal, which is to inspire, the money will follow.”
Santamaría’s campaign reports from February come on the heels of last week’s official announcement of his candidacy, which included media handled by a public relations firm and a Saturday evening kick-off at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. His Twitter feed has been touting a campaign-style hashtag (#SantamariaNOW) through most of 2015, and he said he’s been recruiting precinct captains and advisers for months.
He said he’s counting on a grass-roots campaign based on higher ambitions for Miami-Dade and its place in the world. But his fund-raising reports show support from well-heeled donors. A state political committee run by his campaign treasurer formed in March. Named New Leadership PC, it has raised more than $79,000. The bulk of that came from a single check.
A&D International, described in a New Leadership filing as an “energy investment” firm based in Key Biscayne, gave $50,000 on Feb. 4. That would make it the second-largest campaign contribution in the 2016 cycle of the mayor race, behind a $55,000 donation from Turnberry to an Gimenez political committee in October, according to a Miami Herald database.
This is Santamaría’s first run for elected office. His entrance brought the number of mayoral candidates to six in Miami-Dade, though he joins Gimenez and Regalado as the only ones raising money or demonstrating any sort of campaign infrastructure. Like Gimenez and Regalado, Santamaría is a registered Republican.
Born in Colombia to prominent parents, Santamaría said he and his family moved to Miami about 20 years ago to pursue missionary work. He describes himself as the owner of a company that sells equipment and training to mining outfits in Latin America.
He worked as a staffer to then-congressman David Rivera until the Republican lost his Miami seat in 2012 amid a federal investigation over alleged election fraud. A graduate of Killian High, Santamaría also served in a paid position under Carlos Alvarez when he was Miami-Dade’s mayor.
For him to become a financial threat, he’ll need to repeat his debut performance month after month to even approach Regalado’s war chest. Regalado declined to comment on Santamaría’s fund-raising numbers.
Though he has raised more than $100,000 in all through New Leadership and his campaign, Santamaría also has been spending most of the money. Combined, he ended February with about $16,000 left to spend, compared to $310,000 for Regalado and nearly $3.7 million for Gimenez, who is running for a second four-year term.