School board candidates are typically a veritable who's that of local gadabouts or gray-haired teachers with little recognition outside home room. In District 6, which covers parts of Coral Gables and South Miami, there's Eduardo Zayas-Bazan -- a grandfatherly professor and Bay of Pigs veteran -- and Maria Peiro, a plump local teacher who has about 88 fans on her Facebook page. And then there's Raquelita. The 36-year-old blond attorney abruptly launched her campaign in January despite having no experience in education or administration, but she has already raised $42,000 before the August 24 primary. Peiro, the third-highest fundraiser, has collected a paltry $820. Why all that lucre? "I've had the ability to instill confidence in my supporters," Raquelita says from her office in the Roads.
Sure. That, and the fact she's Mayor Tomás Regalado's daughter. In her sudden interest in education -- she admits to having attended few school board meetings, watching them instead on local-access TV -- education activists and her opponents see someone exploiting family connections and prepping for higher office.
"Everyone wants to be on good terms with the mayor," says Ira Paul, president of Independent Voices for Education, a 20-year-old activist group. "She doesn't strike me as having any experience other than riding her father's coattails."
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Raquelita Regalado got her start in politics in 1996, working as her father's chief of staff -- gratis -- for his first campaign. She launched her own campaign because the county was missing out on state and federal money. "The need is for someone to go to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., and be an advocate for the county," she says. "I've grown up in Miami politics, so I have a relationship with those politicians." However, she admits she has never appeared in an official capacity before the state or national legislature. Her main qualification, she says: two kids in the county system.
She adds that she has a career independent of her father and that she wouldn't ask him to help her raise money. Yet many of papi's donors appear on her campaign financial reports. Pedro Munilla and several members of the MCM construction family have donated the maximum $500 each. So have developers David Brown and Charles Tavares. Munilla and Brown are clients of lobbyist and Tomasito compadre Armando Gutierrez, who is also a Raquelita donor and whose wife is volunteering.
Zayas says Raquel not only has "her father's political machine behind her," but also she might be using the school board as a "stepping stone" for higher office. She wouldn't be the first political scion to do so. Renier de la Portilla, state Sen. Alex de la Portilla's brother, did it in 1996 before successfully running for state representative in 2000.
But Raquel dismisses the criticism. The money? "There's bound to be overlap" with her father's donors. On pulling a de la Portilla: "I have no plans for anything else." She even says her lack of education experience is a good thing: "I bring an outsider's perspective to the table."