Matt Haggman, the former program director of Miami’s Knight Foundation, will run for Congress as a Democrat to seek retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat.
“Our biggest challenges continue to go unmet,” he told the Miami Herald on Monday. “We’re not building for the future. Sea-level rise is being ignored. Many of the jobs today will be dramatically different in a very, very short time. We’re doing very little on that — and that has to change.”
Haggman has invited backers to a Tuesday event dubbed “Building a Better Miami,” where he will announce his candidacy. He signaled his impending run when he resigned earlier this month from Knight, where he had worked since 2011. He plans to be a full-time candidate and cast himself as a political newcomer with the sort of civic experience that might appeal to pragmatic progressive voters.
Haggman, 46, said he’s been contemplating a run since President Donald Trump won the presidency last November — and before Ros-Lehtinen stunned the local political establishment by announcing her retirement in April. He has never been a candidate before, though Democrats have tried to recruit him in the past for local office.
Trump’s victory — and how Republican leaders in Congress have handled him — nudged him to run, Haggman said.
“With the election of Donald Trump, who I stand firmly and strongly and adamantly against, many of our bedrock values are under threat: the values of welcoming immigrants with open arms, of a free press guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.
Hillary Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the district — the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.
Haggman, a Boston native and Coconut Grove resident, is married to Danet Linares, vice chairman of Blanca Commercial Real Estate. Before joining Knight, Haggman was a Herald reporter, covering real estate and Miami-Dade County Hall; he had previously worked for the Daily Business Review. Though he holds a law degree from the University of Vermont, Haggman never practiced as an attorney.
Accustomed to awarding Knight’s grants, Haggman will now have to get used to asking political donors for campaign cash. He’s hired Washington firm SKDKnickerbocker as his political consultant and Anzalone Liszt Grove Research as his pollster.
Mostly unknown outside of the tight-knit technology, media and arts community supported by Knight, Haggman will face the challenge of raising his public profile in a Democratic primary field rife with candidates, most of them with past ballot experience.
Six others are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell is also mulling a run.
About 63 percent of voters in the Democratic-leaning 27th district, which covers southeastern Miami-Dade County, are Hispanic. But non-Hispanic whites hold significant sway in the Democratic primary, which explains why the race has drawn several “Anglo” candidates: Barzee Flores, Haggman, Richardson and Rosen Gonzalez — though voters might see Barzee Flores and Rosen Gonzalez as Hispanic, given their second surnames.
A split in the non-Hispanic white vote could help a Hispanic — say, Rodríguez — consolidate Hispanic votes and win. Crowded primaries, however, especially in a district that hasn’t seen many of them recently, are notoriously difficult to game out.