Last year, members of the Hialeah political establishment stood behind one of their won, Julio Robaina, in the contentious Miami-Dade mayoral race. On Friday, they turned the page and supported Robaina's former opponent, Carlos Gimenez.
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, most of the city council and other local politicians endorsed Gimenez's reelection bid in an event held in a second-floor banquet room above a La Carreta restaurant in the city.
"Mayor Gimenez, you have my support," Hernandez said, praising Gimenez for reducing his salary and lowering the overall county tax rate. "You have kept your promises with the city of Hialeah."
"I needed it to unite Miami-Dade County," Gimenez said of Hialeah elected officials' support. "I know we had a very difficult race with a son of Hialeah ... and the county divided itself a bit."
Both men spoke in Spanish, because no English-language television stations showed up. They also offered prayers and a moment of silence for the victims of the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.
Hernandez was joined by Hialeah Republican state Reps. Rene Garcia and Eddy Gonzalez, former state Sen. Rudy Garcia, current legislative candidate Manny Diaz Jr., County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, Miami Lakes Council member Nelson Hernandez, Hialeah Council President Isis Garcia-Martinez and council members Jose Caragol, Vivian Casals-Muñoz, Katharine Cue, Pablito Hernandez (no relation to the mayor) and Lourdes Lozano.
The endorsement is significant for Gimenez, who narrowly defeated Robaina last summer without winning the majority of the coveted Hispanic vote. While Gimenez's support was broader, Robaina maintained a stronghold over working-class Hialeah and the neighboring cities of Medley, Hialeah Gardens and Miami Lakes.
Robaina has not backed anyone in the current race between Gimenez, County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and five other, lesser-known candidates. But Hernandez's endorsement will likely be taken as a sign that Robaina is at least not opposed to Gimenez's reelection.
Some Hernandez supporters may still be a little resistant to backing Gimenez, however. Many city voters have not forgotten a mysterious robocall during last year's mayoral contest that bashed Robaina and trashed Hialeah politics. Gimenez denied involvement, but Robaina blamed Gimenez's campaign.
"I certainly believe in the people of Hialeah," Martinez said of Friday's endorsement. "They are very proud people. And Hialeahns are not going to forget what Gimenez said about them a year ago. What surprises me is that the person they just elected hasn't remembered."
For Martinez, the Hernandez endorsement could carry a particular sting because the two men share a political link: consultant Sasha Tirador, who ran Hernandez’s campaign last year and is leading Martinez’s operation this year.
Gimenez and Hernandez held a joint, private event in the city Thursday night with several hundred mostly older, Cuban-American voters -– who left the Royal Palace Ballrooms carrying Gimenez paper fans. On Friday at La Carreta, the two men were surrounded by Hialeah con Gimenez (Hialeah with Gimenez) signs. Gimenez's campaign opened an office in the city last weekend.
Hernandez succeeded Robaina as mayor last year, running for the post with Robaina’s blessing after Robaina stepped down to run for county mayor. In his race last fall, Hernandez, a shrewd populist, showed his political strength when he trounced former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who had never lost an election in Hialeah. (Raul Martinez and Joe Martinez are not related.)
By late last year, Gimenez had won over other political players who had backed Robaina, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Republican fundraiser Jorge Arrizurieta -– all of whom held a fundraiser for the mayor at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Friday's endorsement was not devoid of controversy. Hialeah police prohibited Elaine de Valle, a political blogger and former Miami Herald reporter, of attending the endorsement news conference. Gimenez's campaign, which hosted the event, said it was not behind the decision. Hernandez, a former city police officer, refused to comment on the matter.
Last year, de Valle, who has been critical of Hernandez and his administration on her Political Cortadito blog, said the Hialeah police chief forcefully removed her from a Hernandez campaign event at the Goodlet Park community center.
Miami Herald staff writer Charles Rabin contributed to this report.