Miami Beach Commission candidate Rafael Velasquez began today by denying he whipped out his penis while sitting in the passenger seat of Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez's car. He still denies the incident happened even though Rosen Gonzalez is sticking by her allegations. He also told New Times today that "nobody has confronted me ever about sexual harassment," even as the Miami Herald broke
But after a reporter pressed him, Velasquez admitted there had actually been a third incident in local political circles earlier this year.
"I mean, I might have been drunk once and said some things, but nothing else," he said. "There was an incident at a birthday party where I had too much to drink and made some comments, but I didn’t do anything."
After Rosen Gonzalez came forward with her accusations, other women have told Miami-Dade Democratic officials they were also harassed by the candidate. Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Juan Cuba tells New Times he's "now hearing there are other incidents. I was not aware of any of them until last night."
The Dade Democrats have pulled their support for Velasquez's campaign. Cuba says if the allegations are true, Velasquez should suspend his campaign.
But Velasquez insists nothing improper took place in Rosen Gonazlez's car two weeks ago and still claims she's lying to help his opponent, candidate Mark Samuelian. (That's despite the fact that Rosen Gonzalez has been campaigning for Velasquez). He also reportedly called Rosen Gonzalez "crazy."
Rosen Gonzalez aired her allegations to Politico Florida. She claimed that roughly two weeks ago, the two went out for dinner after Velasquez showed up at her home following a day spent knocking on doors and campaigning. She said she'd previously supported him and campaigned for him. Rosen Gonzalez is herself running for U.S.
At dinner, she had two glasses of wine, and Velasquez had two mojitos, she said. She then agreed to drive him to his car — where he allegedly pulled out his penis unprompted. She then screamed at him to zip up his pants, she said. Velasquez is married with children.
“I can never get that image out of my head,” Rosen Gonzalez told Politico. “I’m stuck with it. He had no right to do that to me. It makes me feel like I did something wrong — when I didn’t.” She compared Velasquez to Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul who was outed as a serial sexual predator earlier this year.
Hours later, the Miami Herald reported that a local publicist, Frances Alban, said Velasquez groped her four months ago and then told her she "felt good." The Herald also obtained text messages that show Velasquez calling Alban "sexy" and asking to meet with her.
Velasquez previously seemed like a passionate progressive candidate dipping his toe into local politics. The race for the commission seat has been a complete nightmare: Incumbent candidate Michael Grieco dropped out of the race last week and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge after the Herald exposed a secret political action committee he was using to illegally funnel foreign money into local elections by sending the money through an intermediary known as a "straw donor." Grieco previously ran for mayor. He still denies wrongdoing.
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Now that Velasquez has been accused of harassment, the race is left with candidate Mark Samuelian, who is not without his own concerns. Samuelian is campaigning as a "progressive" Democrat — but in September, New Times reported that he was formerly a registered Republican who donated to a political action committee founded by hard-right Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
As of 1:30 today, Velasquez said he wasn't dropping out and denies he has any sort of harassment problem. He has repeatedly accused Rosen Gonzalez of lying to damage his campaign on Samuelian's behalf.
"She makes reference to Harvey Weinstein, but she is the person in power and not me," he said. "She is the elected official, the congressional candidate, and I was the one who was largely unknown. I don’t have any power to exert over her."
Correction: This piece previously misstated the nature of Michael Grieco's criminal plea. He pleaded no contest and accepted the charge but did not admit guilt. This piece has also been updated to clarify the exact nature of Grieco's campaign-finance violation.