No Cash in the Coffers

What's that, you say? Miami residents will be voting for a new mayor November 3? So, Manny Diaz is not mayor for life? That's the general impression of the most important election in Miami, with only six months to go before the polls open.

There are three candidates, but only two of them matter: Commissioners Joe Sanchez and Tomas Regalado. The former is Diaz's anointed successor. The latter is the anti-Diaz. Neither one will crack the $1 million mark for campaign fundraising like Diaz did in 2001 and 2005, according to local political observers.

"There is a very little enthusiasm for Commissioner Sanchez at this point in the race," notes Dario Moreno, director of the Florida International University Metropolitan Center, a local political think tank. "So far, Sanchez's fundraising has been especially flat since he has the endorsement of the city mayor," Moreno adds. Indeed, Commissioner Regalado, a populist whose day job is Spanish radio host, has raised a little over $200,000, about 50 grand more than Sanchez.

Blame it on the real estate bubble bursting and the economic recession, Moreno attests. "Development and real estate industries represent a vast amount of money that goes into local campaigns, especially in Miami," Moreno says. "The recession has created a negative multiplier effect that has affected the ability of candidates to raise money locally."

Miami publicist Seth Gordon, who helped Diaz ascend to the throne, concurs. "Eight years ago, we were ramping up for a big development boom, so there was something at stake," Gordon says. "Today, there are not as many people with big plans under their arms, so there is not that much pent-up fervor to get their guy in as mayor."

Moreno and Gordon agree the trickle of big donor contributions tilts in Regalado's favor. "It certainly helps him," Moreno says. "And the last time I checked, Regalado had a fundraising lead over Sanchez. That was very surprising."

Regalado has benefited from his staunch opposition to the Florida Marlins stadium deal and the city and county's $3 billion megaplan. This past May 7, prominent art collector Martin Margulies and auto magnate Norman Braman, also opponents of the stadium and megaplan, hosted a Regalado fundraiser. "Those guys have a lot of clout," Regalado affirms. "We had a great turnout and raised a reasonable amount of money."

Sanchez acknowledges "these are tough times for anybody to collect checks." But he disagrees it would hurt him more than Regalado. "Our campaign is going to be well financed and well organized," Sanchez says. "And at the end of the day, I'd rather have a vote than a dollar."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.