Miami-Dade County

For newcomer, a sudden grab for the top job

Alfred Santamaria
Alfred Santamaria

For his political campaign, 36-year-old Alfred Santamaria set his sights on running Florida’s largest county. And the newcomer’s campaign can be hard to miss.

There are billboards of him smiling out at motorists in Coral Gables and at least one television ad on Spanish-language radio. For a fundraiser this spring, he arrived on horseback in the park.

When WPLG declined to invite him to Sunday’s debate between incumbent Carlos Gimenez and Raquel Regalado, the school-board member that polls show is Gimenez’s top challenger, Santamaria’s campaign organized a protest outside the studio. On Friday, he filmed a live question-and-answer session on Facebook from the Manna Life Food cafe in Miami.

“If I was running for Hialeah City Council, this wouldn’t be any fun,” Santamria said. “I’m going to be the big surprise.”

A Colombian-born son of missionaries and a graduate of Killian High, Santamaria worked for both former congressman David Rivera and Carlos Alvarez, who was mayor of Miami-Dade County until voters recalled him in 2011. His campaign biography says he holds two Ph.D.s from colleges associated with Biblical teachings (CELA and Revelation) and is pursuing an MBA at Nova Southeastern University. He’s touting his ability to modernize Miami-Dade’s economy with a more diverse set of industries.

In March, he told the Miami Herald that he was a partner in a company involved in mining technology. His 2015 tax return, filed as part of his campaign papers, listed $27,000 in income and his occupation as field director.

Under assets, his financial disclosure included a $10,000 Rolex watch but not shares in any business. Santamaria said his interest in the mining firm was less than 5 percent and didn’t meet disclosure thresholds.

In 2010, Discover won a $5,300 judgment against Santamaria, including a Miami-Dade Circuit Court order to garnish his wages. Records show Discover lifted the garnishment in April, suggesting the debt had been paid.

On Friday, Santamaria said the legal action was news to him until a year ago. “This was a credit card I had 15 or 20 years ago,” he said. “I thought I had closed the account and it was paid off.”

His campaign and political committee have spent more than $200,000 since 2015. That’s only about a third of the $600,000 spent by Regalado, and a much smaller fraction of Gimenez’s $2 million reelection tab. But of the other four candidates in the race, the only budget that comes close is the nearly $4,000 spent by B.J. Chiszar, a former chairman of Miami-Dade’s Democratic Party.

Santamaria’s money comes from a string of individuals and businesses, including some who wrote significant checks. In March, his debut fund-raising haul of $71,000 beat Regalado’s $17,000 total for the month. At the time, a $50,000 check to Santamaria’s New Leadership political committee was the second-largest donation in the mayor’s race. It came from A&D International USA, a Key Biscayne company that filings described as an energy-investment firm.

Since the office of county mayor is a non-partisan post, a candidate must win 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 30 primary to avoid a November run-off against the second-place finisher. That’s impossible in a two-person race, so the crowded field can be an important factor — particularly if more than one challenger is competitive.

Santamaria said he’s feeling good about his chances. “I’ve never seen a campaign so alive and engaged,” he said.