Miami-Dade County

Harsh words fly as Gimenez and Regalado meet for first time

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, left, and Raquel Regalado, far right, debate live for the Miami-Dade mayor's race on Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg's “This Week in South Florida” at WPLG’s Channel 10 studios in Hollywood on Sunday, August 14, 2016.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez, left, and Raquel Regalado, far right, debate live for the Miami-Dade mayor's race on Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg's “This Week in South Florida” at WPLG’s Channel 10 studios in Hollywood on Sunday, August 14, 2016.

Personal friction in Miami-Dade’s mayoral race erupted on live television Sunday morning, with incumbent Carlos Gimenez accusing challenger Raquel Regalado of repeatedly “making things up” in attacks on him and Regalado charging that the mayor “refuses to take responsibility” for shortcomings of his five years in office.

With two weeks to go before the Aug. 30 primary vote, both candidates used their joint Channel 10 appearance to expand criticism made throughout the campaign. It’s likely to be their only joint appearance; Gimenez has declined other debate invitations. As a result, their personal animosity had not been on display so clearly until the two sat down with hosts Glenna Milberg and Michael Putney.

Gimenez, in office since 2011, portrayed the two-term school board member as unprepared to run Florida’s largest county and trading on misleading information to make her case to voters. Regalado, in office since 2010, accused the mayor of letting the county’s problems go unaddressed until a crisis forces action.

“Carlos Gimenez is never responsible,” Regalado said in their first direct exchange in what is expected to be their lone joint appearance in the election. “Here’s the thing. You’re the strong mayor of Miami-Dade County. …You’re the person elected to take responsibility.”

The putdown came during an argument over police staffing, with Regalado insisting the county’s lower crime rate is in part because of people not reporting car thefts.

“How do you know that? You can’t say stuff like that,” Gimenez retorted. “You come in here and you make stuff up. You have all these supposed facts. And they’re not true.”

Seven people are running for Miami-Dade mayor, but WPLG’s “This Week in South Florida” said it only invited the two candidates polling above 10 percent. Because the mayor’s post is non-partisan, all candidates face off in the primary, which will end the race if a contender gets more than 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, the top two finishers face off on Election Day in November.

Polls show Gimenez ahead, and privately his inner circle says they’re not expecting the race to extend beyond August. Regalado has been critical of Gimenez for not accepting other debate invitations, and Sunday’s television appearance offered her best chance yet to shake up the race.

Sean Foreman, a political science professor at Barry University, said the harsh encounters on “This Week” did not seem to deliver the kind of gaffe or putdown that would alter the dynamic that existed going into the 11:30 a.m. show.

“A tie goes to the incumbent,” Foreman said. “She threw a bunch of stuff at him. But she didn’t give us much about what she would do as mayor. I think that’s what voters want if they want to make a switch.”

I think it’s fascinating to watch Carlos rewrite history.

Miami-Dade mayoral challenger Raquel Regalado on incumbent Carlos Gimenez

Seated at a studio table with hosts Putney and Milberg between them, the two candidates clashed repeatedly, often talking over each other and the hosts to make a point.

Regalado, the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, blamed Gimenez for not seeking federal funds to jump-start an expansion of Miami-Dade’s transit system; he accused her of a naive belief that more lobbying in Washington will solve the county’s budget challenges.

“Ms. Regalado thinks all she needs to do is go to Washington and everything’s going to be solved,” Gimenez said. “We have to solve our own problems here in Miami-Dade.”

The exchange centered on Gimenez’s recent reset of the county’s planning for transit, with six corridors being studied for possible rail extensions. It is known as the SMART plan, but Regalado criticized it as a cover for lack of action.

“I think it’s fascinating to watch Carlos rewrite history,” she said.

You come in here and you make stuff up.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to challenger Raquel Regalado

One scrap involved comments Regalado made to the Miami Herald Editorial Board last week about a $75 million economic-development fund that Gimenez wanted to use to help SkyRise, the proposed Miami Wilds amusement park, warehouses at the Opa-locka airport and other projects. Regalado said she would use the money for transit instead, suggesting it could be seed money for expanding Metrorail, as was originally promised when voters approved a new transportation sales tax in 2002.

Federally funded transit projects typically require local governments pay 25 percent, so $75 million in borrowed county money would yield $300 million. In 2002, Miami-Dade delivered a 2.4-mile Metrorail extension to Miami International Airport that was the lone stretch of extra rail funded since the sales tax was created. It cost $500 million. (In an interview, Regalado said the $75 million would be “a start” for Metrorail.)

Regalado, who used to practice law, accused Gimenez of inaction on a proposed ballot item to restrict campaign donation from government vendors and lobbyists, a core source of contributions for the mayor’s $4 million reelection war chest. Miami-Dade commissioners failed to approve a count of the petitions submitted Aug. 2, and Gimenez said Sunday he wants the item sent to voters in November but that he can’t act alone.

“You’re not an attorney,” Regalado shot back. “You need to look at the charter.”

Gimenez, a former Miami firefighter and city fire chief, replied: “No, I’m just a firefighter.” Regalado responded in the crosstalk: “You’re just a firefighter. That’s why you’ve gotten us into so many [lawsuits].”

Putney began the show by asking Regalado about a recent controversy: the Miami-Dade’s Property Appraiser’s office demanding about $4,000 in back taxes and fees tied to her continuing to claim a primary-residence exemption after moving out of her Miami home in 2012. At the time, she had halted mortgage payments and the property sold in foreclosure two years later.

“If you were having trouble managing your own money, how can you manage a $7.1 billion-a-year county budget?” Putney asked.

“I had a very messy divorce, and as a result there was a foreclosure,” she said. “There was no intent to commit fraud. We did nothing wrong. It was simply something that happened with the bank.”

Gimenez noted that all property owners receive cards each year reminding them they can’t claim the $50,000 value reduction if they don’t live full-time in the residence. He also pointed out that Regalado serves on a county board overseeing appeals of property values. “She knows the rules,” he said. “That’s called homestead-exemption fraud.”

The final segment allowed each to ask the other questions. Regalado asked why Gimenez hadn’t done more to prepare for Zika this year. “With all your experience,” she asked, “did you not see it coming?”

Gimenez’s proposed budget added $300,000 to the $1.5 million reserved this year for mosquito control, but said Miami-Dade expects to spend as much as $8 million on it by the time current fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Regalado said that before Zika was discovered spreading in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in late July, Miami-Dade was only deploying mosquito squads in response to complaints of infestations. She said the approach ignored low-income neighborhoods, where residents tend not to call the county’s 311 service line to ask for help. Gimenez denied the charge, saying his administration followed federal guidelines for mosquito control.

When his turn to question his opponent, Gimenez said: “There are a ton of questions my campaign wanted me to ask Ms. Regalado. But you know, my mother taught me to always be a gentleman. So I’m going to pass.”

Gimenez and Regalado did not address each other during breaks between the taping. At the end, Gimenez, walked over and extended his hand. Regalado accepted it and said: “Have a great day.”