Carlos Gimenez was not on América TeVe's A Mano Limpia show Thursday night -- a fact his opponent, Julio Robaina, and the show's host, Oscar Haza, didn't let go unnoticed after Gimenez backed out earlier this week on attending a planned televised debate.
Sitting in the Spanish-language TV station's studio were Haza, Robaina and an empty black chair with a "Carlos Gimenez" nameplate in front of it. The camera made frequent cutaways to the chair -- particularly when Robaina went after his absent rival, which was often.
Haza said both campaigns had long agreed to let him host the last debate in Spanish before Tuesday's election for Miami-Dade mayor. But a few days ago, Gimenez canceled his appearance. Late Thursday, his campaign sent Haza a letter saying it had a previous engagement speaking to a Republican women's club. Haza said the debate had been on as of three days ago.
Robaina slammed Gimenez, saying his absence did not affect him, "but I think it is disrespectful to the voters of this community, and to the press of this community."
Gimenez and Robaina did agree to debate on WFOR-CBS 4 in a show that will air Saturday -- a sign, Robaina said, that Gimenez as "trying to divide this community" by debating in English but not in Spanish.
Robaina said a poll conducted last week for The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald by Bendixen & Amandi International, which showed Gimenez with an 11-point lead in the race, was "baseless."
"It doesn't correspond with our internal figures," he said, which show "that it's going to very tight, that it's going to be very close, that we're ahead."
Robaina, the former Hialeah mayor, said Gimenez, a former county commissioner, shied away from the last few debates because "he can't answer" Robaina's question of what Gimenez accomplished on the commission dais. Gimenez has said he has participated in more debates than Robaina and wants to spend the week of early voting shaking hands and meeting people.
Repeating a statement he made earlier this week, Robaina blamed Hialeahs 17.3 percent unemployment rate -- the highest of any city in state -- on the county, for its "bureaucracy" and "inefficiency," which he said hinder the construction industry.
And Robaina said prosecutors "are going to investigate" a claim made by former rival Luther Campbell that a Gimenez supporter offered Campbell a $40,000 "appearance fee." Campbell has said Gimenez was unaware of the offer -- and Campbell has said he does not plan to ask prosecutors to probe into the alleged event.