On the same day U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee about deplorable living conditions in government-subsidized housing he visited in three Florida cities, state Democrats were calling him out for not doing more to resolve the problem sooner and suggesting past campaign donations influenced him.
Early on Thursday, Rubio, a Republican, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, testified that when they visited public housing properties owned by Global Ministries Foundation in Jacksonville, Orlando and Riviera Beach, they found crumbling staircases, exposed electrical wiring, damaged roofs and mold.
Both Rubio and Nelson blasted inspectors for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which gave the complexes passing grades when the conditions suggested otherwise.
“These slumlords caused the problems but HUD has enabled it,” Rubio said during the hearing on Thursday.
But state Democrats and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy’s campaign both circulated links to television stories from Jacksonville about how Rubio had accepted $72,100 in donations from previous owners of Eureka Gardens, the apartment complex in Jacksonville that was among the facilities Rubio criticized on Thursday.
First Coast News in Jacksonville reported that starting in 2009 Rubio, before he was elected to the Senate, began receiving donations from a Jacksonville real estate investor family that owned Eureka Gardens. The station reported Rubio and a political action committee he controls received $27,600 from the family, which sold the property in 2012. He received another $44,500 in 2014 from a Texas-based company with connections to the same family, the station reported.
Rubio first started digging into Eureka Gardens’ issues in October 2015, after receiving a letter from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. In May, Rubio visited Eureka Gardens and later pushed the Senate to hold the hearings that were held Thursday.
But Florida Democratic Party spokesman Max Steele faulted Rubio for not doing more about the conditions when campaign donors of his were running the facility. Murphy’s campaign also jumped in, releasing a press release that had the subject line: “Marco Rubio stands by “slumlord” campaign donors in Jacksonville”
In an interview with First Coast News, Rubio said he wasn’t made aware of the problem until last October and would have jumped on it regardless of who the owners were and if they gave donations to him.
“it doesn't matter who is owning the property," Rubio told the station. "We would have been on it the same way we are on now.”
Rubio’s campaign slammed Murphy’s campaign for circulating the story, saying it was an attempt to distract voters from the fact that Rubio is getting things done while Murphy is not.
“Patrick Murphy’s campaign is getting desperate,” spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said.