Miami Beach

In campaign shaded by #MeToo claims, former commissioner faces man she accused

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, right, is running for Miami Beach city commission against Rafael Velasquez, who Rosen Gonzalez accused of exposing himself to her in 2017. Velasquez filmed a recent encounter the candidates had in late July and posted it to Facebook.
Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, right, is running for Miami Beach city commission against Rafael Velasquez, who Rosen Gonzalez accused of exposing himself to her in 2017. Velasquez filmed a recent encounter the candidates had in late July and posted it to Facebook. Facebook/Rafael A. Velasquez

When Rafael Velasquez saw his former mentor campaigning near the MacArthur Causeway in Miami Beach three weeks ago, he grabbed his phone and hit record.

What followed wasn’t a glossy photo op between once-chummy political candidates. Nor a playful back and forth among opponents.

It was a tense roadside confrontation between Velasquez and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, the former city commissioner and Miami Dade College professor who accused him of exposing his penis to her and trying to force her to touch it in 2017. And Velasquez broadcast his run-in with Rosen Gonzalez live to his followers on Facebook, propelling the intensely personal politics of the Miami Beach commission race into the public sphere yet again and offering a unique glimpse at the dynamics of a post-#MeToo political race between an unyielding man and his accuser.

“You need to leave me alone because I am feeling very harassed,” Rosen Gonzalez said in the Facebook Live video, posted on July 29. “Rafael has come out here and he has been very abusive this morning.”

“Feeling very abused, right?” Velasquez asks. He laughed during the encounter and later told the Miami Herald his opponent was acting like a victim and trying to manipulate the public.

In his telling of the incident, Velasquez said he was campaigning near the causeway first. Rosen Gonzalez then approached him and called him “fat pig,” “asshole” and “mother------.”

“So what I did [filming her] was in reaction to her. That’s when she changed the tune and became the victim again,” he said. “She loves to play the victim. She likes to manipulate people.”

Rosen Gonzalez had been helping Velasquez, a Democratic activist and real estate broker, campaign for the City Commission in 2017 when she went public with her accusations. Prosecutors declined to charge Velasquez and found evidence that conflicted with Rosen Gonzalez’s account, but did not pursue Velasquez’s counterclaim that she had fabricated the allegations.

Velasquez filed a defamation lawsuit against Rosen Gonzalez in 2018. He says that she fabricated her claim that he exposed himself to her while they were alone in her car in order to capitalize on the national #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment. Rosen Gonzalez said on an evening in October 2017 she drove him to the Cafe Avanti after an afternoon of campaigning, and on the ride back to his car he grabbed her hand several times and tried to pull it off the steering wheel and onto his genitals.

“Put it away!” she said she yelled.

Velasquez said the accusations damaged his reputation and work life, and led to his divorce.

“This has been the worst nightmare that I certainly could have lived,” Velasquez said. “The greatest victim of her lies were really my children and my marriage.”

His lawsuit is pending.

He loaned his campaign $115,000 for his run against Rosen Gonzalez, who was elected to the commission in 2015 and resigned to run for Congress in 2018.

Rosen Gonzalez was not alone in feeling Velasquez had crossed a line in their personal interactions. Her allegations drew two other claims of sexual misconduct or harassment. Publicist Frances Alban accused Velasquez of groping her, and Roxanna Ayers accused him of making inappropriate and “pervy” comments about her appearance. He apologized for making “inappropriate comments” about the women, but denied the groping allegation.

Velasquez showed investigators text messages that show he and Rosen Gonzalez had continued to communicate in a friendly manner after the alleged incident. He said she continued to help his campaign afterward, putting him in contact with her campaign consultant and inviting him and his wife to a local Democratic party gala, where they were photographed together.

Rosen Gonzalez said she was urged by aides to go forward with her allegations.

“I was helping his campaign. My professional relationship with his campaign did not give him license to expose himself to me,” Rosen Gonzalez said in a statement at the time. “I’m really happy I did the brave thing and came forward so he can no longer abuse women. Not easy, but the #Metoo movement helped me find the courage.”

If all politics is personal, what’s happening in Miami Beach appears to have gone beyond the pale.

Velasquez’s campaign consultant, Randy Hilliard, said he had not seen such a race in his decades of work. A longtime political operative, Hilliard became a federal witness after allegedly serving as a bag man for a Monroe County mayor in a bribery scheme.

“It’s a new one to me,” said Hilliard, who is known to some as “The Prince of Darkness” for his role in negative campaigning in the county. “Just when you’ve seen it all.”

And one candidate tried to capitalize on the dysfunction. Michael Barrineau, a member of the Miami Beach Planning Board, commented on a re-post of Velasquez’s video with a link to his campaign website. He remarked on the “wacky” nature of Miami Beach politics.

“Miami Beach’s wacky campaign season has arrived! Four candidates are in the race for the Group 4 Commission seat. I’m a proud candidate this year and would appreciate the opportunity to earn your support on November 5th,” he wrote.

Barrineau isn’t immune from the personal politics of the race.

“[Y]ou dated KRG. True or false?” asked a Facebook user.

Barrineau responded: “True, are you a Miami Beach voter? Please share who you dated in the summer of 2015.”

He later confirmed to the Miami Herald that he dated Rosen Gonzalez “very briefly in late summer of 2015 and it ended by Labor Day of that year.”

Barrineau, who has raised $51,230 — $19,000 of which he loaned his own campaign — did not comment for this article beyond that confirmation.

The fourth candidate in the race, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Steven Meiner, has not been a part of this particular conversation. He has raised about $18,500, including $2,000 he loaned his campaign.

Rosen Gonzalez declined to comment for this article after repeated attempts to contact her via phone calls and text messages, emails and an in-person request for comment following a campaign event in Miami Beach.

She has raised $113,713 in campaign contributions and is considered the front runner in the race, as the only candidate to have held a seat on the commission before.

But Keith Donner, a political consultant not involved in the race, said an outside candidate like Barrineau could capitalize on the head-to-head matchup between Velasquez and Rosen Gonzalez if both campaigns push the #MeToo allegations and defamation lawsuit. But he doubts they will.

“If this goes full scale ‘he said, she said,’ a lot of voters will be turned off,” Donner said. “If it boils down to a literal ‘he said, she said,’ I’m not sure where the votes are going to lie on that particular issue.”

Donner said the incident would add drama to the race, but that he believes votes will be cast for the more credible candidate.