As a young boy in Cuba, Carlos Gimenez often woke up to the caretaker's voice rousing his father for a day's work on the family ranch.
"I would get dressed. and my horse would be ready," the 60-year-old recalled. "Those were good times."
Now mayor of Miami-Dade County, Gimenez's public profile and private history put him in the spotlight as President Barack Obama offers Cuba a diplomatic embrace. The county's senior Cuban-born politician issued a disapproving statement Wednesday, but in an interview he didn't ramp up the criticism.
"While I welcome the release of Alan Gross and another person, I am deeply disturbed that it appears that in this negotiation we did not secure freedoms for the Cuban people," Gimenez said in the statement from his office. Hours later, a reporter asked if he thought Obama's move would do any good, he replied: "That's to be determined. We'll see."
The Cuban news comes weeks after Gimenez, a Republican, touted the Obama administration's approval of a new hiring initiative he's pitching as a way to help ease chronic unemployment in some of Miami-Dade's black neighborhoods. Gimenez also is on the same side of the White House on police body cameras, which he wants issued to all county patrol officers.
After a brief flirtation with becoming an independent, Gimenez is positioning himself as a non-partisan administrator as he gears up for a reelection fight in 2016 that the Democratic Party has pledged to make competitive for him.
His Miami counterpart and fellow Cuban immigrant, Mayor Tomás Regalado, seemed to take a harsher tone with the Obama administration, predicting trouble if Washington accommodated Cuba in opening a consulate in Miami.
“I would think having a consulate in Miami would be a mistake because it would create a safety issue,” said Regalado, a Republican whose father spent 22 years in prison under the Castro regime. "Because some people eventually will try to do something to the consulate.”
Regaldo's daughter, school board member Raquel Regalado, is considering a run against Gimenez in 2016 for county mayor. Gimenez declined to take a position on the consulate question. "I think there are a lot of other obstacles that have to be hopped over before we think of a Cuban consulate here in Miami," he said.
At age 7, Gimenez left what he described as an affluent life in Cuba. Along with the ranch on Cuba's Oriente Province, the family owned a condo in Havana. They'd split their time between the two, with the caretaker's family watching over the ranch during the city breaks.
The Gimenezes left for the United States in November 1960, a year after Fidel Castro took power. Gimenez said he recalled thinking the plane ride was the start of a vacation, and that his parents expected to be back in about six months. They bunked in Miami in a four-bedroom house with two other families, with about 20 people sleeping there in all. His father worked a bellhop at the Seville Hotel, and his mother in the office of an exterminator company.
Young Gimenez spoke no English. He remembered asking another boy, who spoke both, when first grade started. "He said 'tomorrow, mañana," Gimenez. "That was the first word I learned in English."
When he talked with Naked Politics, Gimenez hadn't spoken to his parents about Obama's announcement. "My father is 92. My mom is in her early 80s," he said. "Cuba is very painful for them."
Gimenez said he wants to visit Cuba, and see where he started life. He's found the condo complex on Google Earth. "The kiddie pools are still there," he said. But he has no interest in going there until the Castro regime ends.
"Until they're gone, I don't choose to," he said. "I also don't send money there. Those are personal choices I've made, and my parents made. Because we don't want to help the government in any way, shape or form."