Garcia lashes out at TV station after Miami congressional debate

Annette Taddeo and Joe Garcia, Democratic rivals for Florida’s 26th congressional district, meet with the Miami Herald editorial board Aug. 9.
Annette Taddeo and Joe Garcia, Democratic rivals for Florida’s 26th congressional district, meet with the Miami Herald editorial board Aug. 9. emichot@miamiherald.com

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia was fuming when the cameras stopped rolling Monday night at the end of his first televised debate against Miami Democratic primary opponent Annette Taddeo.

Angered over what he perceived as bias against him, Garcia stepped into a hallway just outside the recording studio of Spanish-language station América TeVé and lashed out — loudly — at moderator Felix Guillermo and, later, at station manager Miguel Cossio, according to several people who overheard the heated argument.

Two people said they heard Garcia say “comemierda,” a common local insult usually taken to mean “fool” or “jackass,” though it literally translates to “s***-eater.” On Tuesday afternoon, Cossio and Guillermo vehemently denied to the Miami Herald that Garcia used the word against either of them.

“I wouldn’t have allowed that,” Cossio said. “He never insulted me,” Guillermo said.

The exchange lasted a few minutes, according to the people who heard it, with Garcia unleashing his frustration after a debate he apparently felt did not go well. América TeVé employees appeared surprised and embarrassed by the dust-up — especially because Taddeo still hadn’t left the station.

Guillermo dismissed the incident as an “internal” matter. “Nothing happened,” he told the Herald on Tuesday morning.

Cossio went further, denying that any tense discussion took place.

“I can tell you none did,” he said. “Joe Garcia and I have known each other for many years — 15, 20 years. Like in all relationships, I’ve had all sorts of exchanges with him — none of them violent. With Joe I have the best relationship in the world.”

Garcia, who’s known to lose his temper in the political arena, did not return a call seeking comment. His spokesman, Javier Hernandez, said there was no post-debate yelling match.

But news of Garcia’s outburst spread quickly Monday night among Miami’s tight-knit Spanish media regulars — so quickly that former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, a Taddeo supporter who in previous campaigns backed Garcia, mentioned the verbal scuffle on Prohibido Callarse (Silence Banned), a program that aired immediately after the debate on rival station Mira TV.

It didn’t help Garcia that at least three times during the debate he mistakenly referred to Guillermo, the moderator, as “Ricardo” instead of “Felix.” He repeatedly apologized, on air and later on Twitter.

“I’m sorry for confusing your name,” Garcia wrote Guillermo on Twitter in Spanish. “It was a senior moment. I send you a sincere apology and a hug.”

But Guillermo told the Herald on Tuesday that the repeated use of “Ricardo” — a possible reference to his media colleague Ricardo Brown — hardly seemed unintentional.

“He tried to create an uncomfortable environment, but that was it, it didn’t go further from there,” Guillermo said of Garcia. “He made the same mistake four times. I imagine it wasn’t a mistake, that there was some sort of intention behind it, but I don’t know what it was.”

The scuttlebutt from others inside América TeVé? That Guillermo had upset Garcia by not referring to him by the honorific “congressman.”

During the debate itself, Garcia and Taddeo, whose tone has gotten increasingly combative on the campaign trail, did not hold back. The one-time friends and former political allies are competing in the Aug. 30 primary to challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who represents the Westchester-to-Key West 26th congressional district.

“The reality is that people know my character,” Garcia said during the debate, “and they know my service.”

Garcia, considered the leading primary contender, portrayed Taddeo as a Democratic Party patsy and serial failed candidate who sought his endorsement as recently as December — and then agreed to run a positive race against him once he announced his candidacy. He accused her of instead resorting to a “dirty” campaign using “Trump tactics,” referring to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

He also held up a thick folder representing the 76-page opposition-research book her campaign wrote on him — a document released online just hours before the debate by an anonymous hacker who obtained records from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Other party documents also cast Garcia — and, in one case, Taddeo — in a negative light.

On the debate stage, Taddeo pulled out paperwork of her own: a document from one of two past criminal investigations into Garcia’s previous campaigns (he was never charged) and a letter he wrote while in Congress on behalf of a now-defunct for-profit university. She chided him for spending more than $150,000 in campaign funds for defense attorneys.

Mijito,” she said, using a Spanish-language term of endearment that can also be condescending, “you should be ashamed of comparing me to Trump.”

Taddeo said the national Democratic organization Emily’s List tried to recruit her to run against Garcia in 2012 but she turned it down to support him. The night Charlie Crist lost the 2014 Florida governor’s race — Taddeo was Crist’s running mate — Taddeo said Garcia telephoned to urge her to run for U.S. Senate, which she took as a warning not to challenge him for Congress.

“Falsehoods,” Garcia retorted, countering that Taddeo was looking for “petty motives” to run against her friend.

Taddeo backed Garcia’s failed 2014 re-election bid, but decided against supporting him again after a federal investigation uncovered an email that suggested Garcia might have known about a ringer candidate his former campaign manager planted in the 2010 congressional primary — something Garcia has denied.

“We told you not to do it,” Taddeo said of Garcia’s latest run. “You got burned with everything that happened.”

This story has been updated.