Raquel Regalado Took On the Establishment; Now She Wants to Run It

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Between bites, over a man's shouting on the phone about the price of an apartment rental, she muses about her weekday Spanish-language radio show, Las Dos Caras de la Noticia -- "The Two Faces of News." Through that show and her weekly TV program, Esta Semana con Raquel, she has cultivated a devoted following that includes thousands of Cuban-Americans who know her as Raquelita, the convivial daughter of Miami's mayor, Tomás Regalado.

She says she loves working in media, that it feels like home. But then the second-term Miami-Dade County school board member adds she might soon give it all up.

"When you become mayor, you have to leave it behind," she says matter-of-factly. "I'll give up radio and TV. Both."

The 40-year-old recently announced she plans to run for either city or county mayor. Neither position has ever been held by a woman. And even though the elections are still one and two years away, respectively, she's the odds-on favorite for both. Her political profile is higher than ever. Last fall, Regalado, an Energizer Bunny single mom of an autistic 11-year-old daughter, put her reputation on the line to almost single-handedly bring down a controversial $393 million courthouse bond.

"I don't see how this woman can be stopped," Miami Herald columnist and political observer Joe Cardona says. "She's got a... good chance to become the first female mayor. I don't think [Miami-Dade Mayor] Carlos Gimenez's place is enviable right now."

Early in the morning of March 10, 1990, a pencil-thin 15-year-old woke up and carefully positioned a blue bow in her hair to match her Catholic school uniform. Then Raquelita Regalado headed out to take on America's most powerful Cuban exile.

Jorge Mas Canosa, the notoriously fiery Cuban American National Foundation chief and adviser to numerous presidents, was debating a Soviet official at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami. With his trademark passion, Mas Canosa torched his opponent and talk

ed about the future of Cuba. After the talk, there was a question-and-answer session.

"Mr. Mas Canosa," began the teenaged Raquelita, then a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, "with all due respect... you don't represent all Cubans."

The next day, her bold challenge -- along with her picture -- was featured in the Miami Herald. Her mom, also named Raquel, dragged her to local Spanish radio stations to give interviews explaining her comments. Raquelita's career as a media darling had officially begun.

Considering her family, the audaciousness wasn't a surprise. Tomás Regalado Molina, Raquelita's paternal grandfather, was the president of a Cuban journalists' organization. After the 1959 revolution, he was jailed as a political prisoner, and in 1962 his 14-year-old son, Tomás, along with Tomás' younger brother, Marcos, was shipped to South Florida as part of the famous Pedro Pan visa waiver program for Cuban children 16 and younger.

The younger Tomás, long before he was elected Miami's mayor, grew up to become a prominent Spanish-language radio and TV journalist, reporting from around the world and serving as the first Cuban-American member of the White House Press Corps. Still in his early 20s, the cool, even-tempered Tomás was chosen to cohost a four-hour Saturday-night music variety show, Sábados Musicales.

His cohost was another young Cuban exile, the beautiful, sharp-tongued Raquel Ferreiro. The two quickly fell in love and then married in 1972. Their first son, Tomás Napoleon, was born the next year; Raquelita arrived less than 12 months later; and another son, Jose Francisco, came in 1985.

The family was close-knit and talkative. Raquelita quickly learned that she "had to fight for airspace" in vigorous family debates, she says, and she got along well with her outgoing, sociable older brother.

She was also exceptionally stubborn. When she was 7, she didn't like red beans, and she'd refuse to eat them at the dinner table. Her mom would then prohibit her from getting up to watch television or even do her homework. Raquelita would sit alone at the table, locked in a battle of wills with her legendarily feisty mother. "I would say to my wife: 'Come on, the girl doesn't want to eat it,'" Tomás Regalado recalls.

But the elder Raquel would reply that their daughter "has to learn," and the standoffs would continue for three or four hours, until the parents had no choice but to put their daughter to bed.

She peppered Reno with questions about getting her job. "Do I have to be as tall as you?" Raquelita asked.

When she wasn't at school, Raquelita was at La Cadena Azul, the Spanish-language radio station where her parents worked, along with her grandfather after he was freed. "I always joke with people that my parents were huge proponents of child labor," Raquelita says. "My older brother and I, we would do the boards, and we did the sound effects, we did the commercials. Because why would you hire somebody if you had two kids running around, right?"

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Trevor Bach