Back in March, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez closed marinas, restaurants, and barbershops in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.
One business operation he didn't shut down: construction sites.
Amid the county's lockdown orders, Giménez has kept construction projects open with strict social-distancing requirements. But not everyone has been happy with that guidance. Concerns about the coronavirus have led some Miami-Dade municipalities to break from the county's order and limit construction. And some local builders, including Sergio Pino, president of Century Homebuilders in Coral Gables, have called on Giménez to rethink his policy.
"It's hard to maintain distance, because people forget while they're working, while they're getting someone else's tools," Pino tells New Times.
In April, Pino sent the mayor a letter suggesting that construction projects close down for ten business days and that workers be tested upon returning to the job. He says Giménez didn't respond to the letter.
Of course, Giménez isn't just Miami-Dade's mayor; he's also a candidate for federal office. The 66-year-old Republican is running to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat, in the November election to represent Florida's 26th Congressional District.
And as he leads the county through a historic pandemic, the line between Giménez's two political identities appears somewhat blurred.
Late last month, the mayor announced he'd formed a number of "working groups" consisting of individuals from various industries, such as healthcare and food service, to develop plans to safely reopen Miami-Dade.
According to records obtained by New Times, the mayor's working group for the real estate industry includes a number of people who had previously donated to his congressional campaign. Lobbyist Albert Dotson is one. Jackie Soffer, CEO of the real estate company Turnberry, is another. Dotson and Soffer each contributed $5,600 to Giménez in February. Dotson's wife, Gail, threw in an additional $2,800.
In all, Federal Elections Commission reports from Giménez's campaign show Giménez has received $185,000 from real estate execs, developers, and lobbyists since January 1 — nearly half of the $415,000 war chest he has amassed so far in 2020.
On March 31 alone, Giménez's campaign hauled in almost $100,000 from CEOs and other leaders at real estate companies. That was the same day the mayor said during a video press conference that construction sites are essential because of their potential for job creation.
Notably, Giménez received $28,000 in donations from executives of Lennar Corporation, a real estate development company with major projects throughout Miami, including a large residential community called Kingman Commons that's under construction in Homestead. (The project is still active today, according to the City of Homestead.)
Others who donated to the Giménez campaign include executives from MasTec, a construction and engineering firm based in Coral Gables, and NV2A Group, a general contractor in Kendall. Leaders from MasTec and NV2A donated $11,200 and $22,400, respectively.
MasTec is a billion-dollar company led by a famously influential Cuban-American family. The company's chairman and CEO, brothers Jorge and Jose Mas, are part-owners of Inter Miami FC soccer team along with David Beckham. Jorge Mas once bid to purchase the Miami Marlins, and he's also chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, the nonprofit Cuban-exile advocacy group founded by his father, the late Jorge Mas Canosa. (Mas Canosa, who founded MasTec, was a tremendously influential and polarizing figure in the exile community until his death in 1997.)
Jorge Mas has not contributed to Giménez's campaign this year, but Jose Mas chipped in the maximum $5,600 in March — $2,800 earmarked for the primary election and $2,800 for the general election.
NV2A CEO Gilberto Neves, who also donated $5,600 to Giménez in March, was most recently an executive for the construction giant Odebrecht, a politically connected firm the Miami Herald once called "a master at winning public contracts." NV2A has worked on a number of major Miami projects, including the Norwegian Cruise Line terminal in PortMiami and the Optima Onyx Tower in Aventura.
FEC guidelines permit individuals to contribute no more than $2,800 per election to a federal candidate's campaign. But one way to get around the cap is to have a spouse or other family member donate. Several spouses of real estate executives donated to Giménez, including Susan Gross, who's married to Lennar Financial Services CEO Bruce Gross, and Barbara Beckwitt, the wife of Lennar CEO Rick Beckwitt.
In a statement to New Times, the Florida Democratic Party criticized Giménez's decision to keep construction sites open and suggested the donations had an influence.
"Corrupt Carlos Giménez looks out for himself and his special-interest friends, not South Florida families. In the midst of this devastating pandemic, Corrupt Carlos is ignoring public-health experts and listening to big-money developers who are donating massive sums to his campaign," party spokeswoman Luisana Pérez Fernández said. "This behavior is reckless and it will cost lives in our community. We deserve much better."
Nicole Rapanos, a spokesperson for the Giménez campaign, says the mayor has received donations from many businesses and that those contributions have not affected his policies.
"There are an array of businesses that contributed to Mayor Giménez's campaign. Some of whom had their businesses shut down while others were able to operate," Rapanos wrote in a text message. "Their contributions had no bearing on such decisions. As a former firefighter and public-safety official, Mayor Giménez is focused solely on working with health officials and experts to protect all residents."
Pino tells New Times his concerns are practical, not political. He says he doesn't fault the mayor for not closing down sites, and that he understands that large developers might want to keep their projects running so as not to worry shareholders.
But he believes more construction companies should consider voluntarily closing their sites to keep their employees — and the public — healthy.
"How we behave is how many people we're gonna lose or not lose. Construction industry and grocery stores — that's where people are getting sick," Pino says. "What's wrong with shutting down for two weeks? We know if you have it, we test you, and we start fresh."