Anyone who's followed
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to campaign events the past couple of
months has probably noticed Rafael Garcia-Toledo -- the guy
chauffeuring hizzoner from one stop to another in a white Lincoln
Navigator. In fact, he'll be ferrying Gimenez around today from
precinct to precinct. It's a menial job for Garcia-Toledo,
considering he's also Gimenez's finance chairman, responsible for
helping raise close to $3.5 million for the mayor's re-election.
But it might be a small
price to pay for Garcia-Toledo, considering the lucrative
subcontractor gigs he's landed for county-funded projects while
literally sitting in the driver's seat of Gimenez's campaign.
Garcia-Toledo says he would never use his close friendship with Gimenez for personal gain. "I really enjoy the relationship I have with the mayor," Garcia-Toledo says.
The mayor also insists there's no conflict in having his finance chief work on millions in taxpayer-funded gigs, saying Garcia-Toledo's role gives him no bidding edge. "I've never asked anyone to hire Ralph," Gimenez tells Banana Republican. "He is successful in his own right. He doesn't need me."
Indeed, his Coral Gables-based G-T Construction Group has earned $7 million as a subcontractor on four projects since 2000, including two ongoing contracts: a $2.9 million bid on work at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and a $1.7 million deal to help build the new people mover at Miami International Airport.
Odebrecht Construction also included G-T on a team that has won a $57 million project to reinforce cargo wharves at the Port of Miami. Odebrecht is scheduled to pay G-T $350,000 for its role in that project.
Also worth noting: Garcia-Toledo's wife, Vicky, a lawyer at downtown firm Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, is a lobbyist for Genting Group, the Malaysian company that bought the Miami Herald headquarters with plans to turn it into a casino resort.
Her role is to help Genting obtain county approval for its site plans. When Genting unveiled its massive project 12 months ago, Gimenez was one of the first politicians to endorse it.Garcia-Toledo, who contributed $27,000 of his own money to Gimenez's political action committee, Common Sense Now, says he had nothing to do with Genting hiring his wife. "She's good at what she does," he says. "She is a bad ass."
Garcia-Toledo's family has strong roots in the Cuban-American community. His parents fought against Castro shortly after the dictator assumed power in Cuba. His mother was a political prisoner. In the late 1990s, Garcia-Toledo's father, also named Rafael, spearheaded an effort to bring the Pan American games to Miami in 2007. But the Miami-Dade County Commission would not budge on its policy that banned county government from doing business with any entity tied to Cuba. The Pan Am games always include the communist nation just as it is welcomed in the Olympics. That policy was subsequently struck down by a federal judge, but it was too late to bring the Pan Am games.
Garcia-Toledo says he plans to take up his dad's cause again. "I will only lobby Carlos to bring the Pan Am games to Miami," he says. "That's it."
He met Gimenez in 2004, when the former Miami city manager first ran for county commissioner to replace Jimmy Morales, who at the time was running for county mayor. But the two men did not become close until last year's election to replace Carlos Alvarez after he had been recalled. "The first big check that Carlos Gimenez got for his campaign was a check that I wrote to try to impress another politician to support him," says Garcia-Toledo, who declines to name that other politician. "I grabbed my checkbook and wrote it for $10,000."
Garcia-Toledo explains the check initially bounced. "In my exuberance, I grabbed the wrong checkbook for an account that had minimal funds," Garcia-Toledo says. "Of course I wrote him a new check from another account to replace the bad one." As last summer's campaign intensified, Garcia-Toledo recalls, Gimenez's family asked him to drive the candidate around to political events.
"Our bond just grew," he says. "I became someone he could bounce things off of. We invented jingles about [then-opponent and former Hialeah mayor] Julio Robaina."
He downplays his title of finance chairman. "Carlos doesn't like to make calls to ask people for money," Garcia-Toledo says. "I didn't mind being that buffer. It is just a ceremonial title."
Regardless, Garcia-Toledo insists he is not using his friendship with the mayor to score more contracts with companies doing business at County Hall. "I got more subcontracting work when Alvarez was mayor than at any point in my life," he says. "Since Carlos Gimenez became mayor, I have not gotten a subcontractor job at the county."
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He notes that his company is only listed as subcontractor on the Port of Miami project because Odebrecht requested one of his project managers work on it. "Odebrecht is paying my company to cover his salary," Garcia-Toledo says. "But I don't have a contract to provide Odebrecht with services at the port."
He adds: "We have an exceptional reputation."