Why Doesn't Miami Have A Competitive Mayoral Race?

Oct 10, 2013

Miami residents will be voting in a mayoral election on November 5, and it looks like Mayor Tomas Regalado will skate to an easy win. Except for three unknown challengers, the popular Regalado will be alone on the ballot.
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Let's start with a smaller story about wasted words. Barry University political science professor Sean Foreman is editing a collection of articles by big city professors about mayoral campaigns in their own cities.

It's for a book he's writing called "The Keys to City Hall." Foreman wrote the Miami mayoral story himself. It starts like this:

“Mayor Tomas Regalado versus Commissioner Francis Suarez brings old Miami versus new Miami and déjà vu all over again. It's likely to be a typical Miami campaign where Cubans, crazy mayors of the past and a vision for the common man will be some of the issues raised.”

But you'll never see that in print. Young and charismatic, city commissioner Francis Suarez raised tremendous sums of money and won powerful endorsements. His campaign never took off. But by the time it imploded, many say, he had cleared the field of other serious candidates.

Except for three very minor, very unknown challengers, Regalado was left alone on the ballot. It's a shame, says Foreman. Suarez had promised a legitimate and clarifying contest.

“He was going to change Miami. He was the new generation that would move away from incompetence and mismanagement in the city of Miami,” Foreman says.

Indeed, Regalado seems to have a lot to answer for -- the under-funded, discontented Miami police department, a federal investigation of possible financial fraud by the city and a city manager turnover rate that's considered too high.

But the city has already agreed to hire more cops and pay them better. Regalado says any fraud was committed in the administration of his predecessor, Manny Diaz. And the city managers? Well, Francisco Alvarado, who covers city hall for Miami New Times, says Regalado has been careful to stay in front of issues that reach the notice of real-life voters.

“Regalado endeared himself to the community activists who were opposed to the Marlins baseball park,” says Alvardo.”That was one of his strengths, as well as standing up to development when Diaz was in office.”

And the mayor has protected Miamians from obvious irritants, although Alvarado says, it may have been at the expense of the big picture. “You know, he wants to take care of the potholes and make sure elderly residents are getting their lunches. But he doesn’t have a vision of Miami, 20 or 30 years from now, or what his legacy is going to be."

A recent Saturday afternoon finds Regalado greeting voters at a low-income high rise in the city's Allapattah neighborhood. Some of the people have dragged their dinette chairs down to the open-air first floor of the parking garage, where food, drinks and sound system are arranged on folding tables. It looks like a typical crowd of Regalado's best demographic: older, Spanish-speaking Cuban-Americans.

But that's only mostly accurate. Brenda Gross is here, too. She's 34.

“I don't think he is for old Miami people,” Gross says. “We are young people, we are between 30 and 40 years old, and we're supporting him now. And if you can see, you see a lot of people here. There's no old.”

In an interview, Regalado talks about education, the need to weave technology into the fabric of Miami life and his desire to see a 24-hour downtown. It’s New Miami stuff from an old Miami guy.

“I do not represent the old Miami,” says Regalado. “I know the old Miami. I know the old residents and I know because I have memories of the Miami I grew up in in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Miami I worked as a journalist in the 1980s and 1990s.

Popular Tomas Regalado is limited to one more term in office. If he's re-elected on November 5, as many expect, it will be without a campaign test of his record or the need to seek approval during his last years in office.