Curbelo considering 2020 Miami-Dade mayoral bid

Carlos Curbelo may not be out of politics for long.

The two-term Republican congressman who lost reelection to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell earlier this month and was mocked by Donald Trump for not tying himself to the president is considering a run for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020, he told the Miami Herald.

“I have a passion for public service and I’m not discarding any possibility right now,” Curbelo said from a coffee shop that is doubling as his office during his final weeks in Washington. “I have always thought about the idea of serving another two years here and then serving as county mayor. This work is certainly not easy on the family.”

Curbelo, 38, said he’s not ready to make a final decision on any future runs for office anytime soon, adding that supporters have also encouraged him to run for Congress again after he lost reelection in the most Democratic-leaning district in the country represented by a Republican. He also plans to “find a way to keep my voice on the big issues I care about,” such as immigration, the environment and the national debt.

Curbelo would be competing in a wide-open race to succeed fellow Republican Carlos Gimenez, who must leave office in 2020 due to term limits. While the mayoral post is nonpartisan, Democrats see an opportunity to use the presidential election to take back the mayor’s office in deep-blue Miami-Dade for the first time since Alex Penelas finished his second term in 2004. Penelas is eyeing a comeback in 2020 with another mayoral run.

Gimenez endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, while Curbelo said he did not vote for Trump or Clinton. Curbelo frequently criticized the president over the past two years, but did vote to repeal Obamacare and helped draft the law that overhauled the nation’s tax system, and was successfully attacked by Democrats for his votes.

County commissioners hoping to use their seats as springboards into the mayoral suite in County Hall include current Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, a Republican and friend of Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio; Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat and an active local surrogate for Andrew Gillum’s failed gubernatorial bid; and Xavier Suarez, an independent former Miami mayor whose son, Francis Suarez, is the city’s current mayor. Luther Campbell, the former 2 Live Crew performer who is now a prominent Liberty City leader for his role organizing youth football programs, also is planning a run. He finished fourth in the 2011 mayoral primary that led to Gimenez’s victory.

Outgoing Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican and former county property appraiser, is quietly ramping up his own 2020 run for mayor. Alberto Carvalho, the county schools superintendent and frequent Twitter critic of President Trump, increased speculation about his political ambitions after making a show of turning down the top schools job in New York earlier this year.

Because county posts are nonpartisan, all candidates face each other in an August 2020 primary. If nobody takes a majority of the vote, the top two finishers would compete in a runoff on Election Day. Since that contest would coincide with the presidential election, Democrats see November 2020 as a favorable battleground for County Hall, given the deep dislike of Trump in Miami and the spike in Democratic turnout that typically comes locally with presidential elections. Democrats make up about 42 percent of Miami-Dade’s registered voters; Republicans, about 26 percent. Voters without political affiliations account for 31 percent of the electorate. But with a crowded field, a Democrat winning one of the two runoff slots in August is no sure thing.

Curbelo said he’s familiar with county-level issues through his work in Congress and on the Miami-Dade School Board, where he served from 2010 to 2014. He said transportation, environmental infrastructure and government reform are three issues that are important to him at the county level.

“I think Mayor Gimenez has done a good job, I’m certainly not one of his critics,” Curbelo said. “I’ve seen him in action during hurricane response and he’s very capable and competent, but do think it’d be a great time in the county for a new generation of leadership. We’re certainty going to see that in the next four years as the county commissioners’ term limits really start forcing change there and I feel like I would have a lot to contribute.”

Alex Daugherty is the Washington correspondent for the Miami Herald, covering South Florida from the nation’s capital. Previously, he worked as the Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for the Herald covering politics in Miami.