Miami Beach

Accused of sexual harassment, Miami Beach candidate loses entire campaign staff

Miami Beach City Commission candidate Rafael Velasquez
Miami Beach City Commission candidate Rafael Velasquez Miami Herald staff

After two women accused him of sexual harassment, Miami Beach candidate Rafael Velasquez lost his entire shoestring campaign staff late Monday.

They quit and said they could no longer stand by him, a week before Election Day.

Campaign Chairman Ansh Grover, Field Director Michael Thoeness and Treasurer Gustavo Perez resigned as of 5 p.m. Monday in a joint memo to Velasquez.

“My heart truly hurts,” Grover wrote. “We live in times where our sisters, mothers and families and friends are experiencing abuse at higher levels than ever before — yet fear holds back so many from being able to get justice. We will not stand by as stories continue to come in and victims continue to increase.”

Tuesday morning, Velasquez, a 44-year-old married father of two, offered a muddled apology to his accusers, telling the Miami Herald he was sorry for sending text messages he considered flirtatious. But he maintained he did not flash his penis to a sitting commissioner or grope a local publicist.

“I want to apologize to anybody I might’ve offended in my communications,” he said. “I never meant to offend anyone. I certainly learned a lesson.”

Velasquez acknowledged the campaign resignations but referred to them as “volunteers.” Grover said he deferred payment of his fees but Thoeness and Perez were paid staff.

In an interview Tuesday with the Miami Herald, Grover said the staff was surprised to learn of Velasquez’s alleged behavior — and further dismayed by how he responded to the allegations against him: After Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said Velasquez exposed himself to her in her car, Velasquez took to Facebook to deny her account and call it “an insane attack.”

“That was not only out of character, but it was not the appropriate way to handle those allegations — especially when there were more to come,” Grover said. “It is very important that you don’t come out and vilify anyone making these allegations.”

The Miami-Dade County Democratic Party suspended its digital ads and mailed fliers for Velasquez on Monday after Rosen Gonzalez detailed the Oct. 18 incident in which she said Velasquez exposed himself to her.

Then, after publicist Frances Alban told the Herald that Velasquez had grabbed her butt at a North Beach event four months ago — and followed up with a text message telling her, “you felt good” — Party Chairman Juan Cuba urged Velasquez to withdraw from next Tuesday’s election.

Velasquez said he is undeterred: “I want to let the voters decide on Nov. 7.”

Some voters are deciding to withdraw support.

“I’m appalled and sickened by this news,” said Carolina Jones, a community activist in her North Beach neighborhood. “I was supporting him, but obviously, now I have retracted that.”

Velasquez also lost his only high-profile endorsement. The Beach chapter of Communication Workers of America, which represents many municipal workers, withdrew its support of Velasquez.

Tuesday afternoon, the candidate doubled down on his denials and insisted Rosen Gonzalez walk back her accusation.

“I respectfully request she retract her statement,” he said.

Rosen Gonzalez stood by her account, saying, “Miami Beach will definitely reject this sick delusional man, if they haven’t already.” She also challenged Velasquez to a polygraph test.

“If he is so confident, let’s go to the police station... and we can both do it together.”

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