How did Donald Trump come to write a large campaign check for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's reelection effort while he pursues a take-over of a prime county golf course?
Gimenez called and asked, according to a Trump executive.
Ed Russo, Trump's point person in talks over a proposal to manage Miami-Dade's Crandon Park course, said Gimenez called last month to request a contribution. Campaign records show Trump wrote a check for $15,000 to Miami-Dade Residents First, Gimenez's political action committee.
"The mayor called me and said he was running for reelection, and asked if we could help him out," Russo said Thursday during an interview at the Trump National Doral Miami resort. "I called Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump said he would be honored."
Gimenez could not be reached for comment Thursday. He is believed to have called dozens of potential donors last month during the launch of his fund-raising effort for 2016, a standard exercise for an incumbent seeking the cash needed to mount a campaign.
His committee raised an eye-popping $500,000 in January. Companies and individuals with business before the county are the primary font of campaign cash for incumbents in Miami-Dade. A number of county contractors, tenants and developers joined Trump in meeting the $15,000 cap that Gimenez's fund-raisers set for January gifts.
Gimenez's call to Russo sheds more light on a relationship that became a complication for the mayor this week. On Wednesday, Gimenez sent a memo to County Commissioners recusing himself from the Trump matter, citing one of his son's lobbying work for Trump in Doral.
Trump submitted his Crandon plan to the Parks department in July. He's pledging to spend $10 million on upgrades while retaining discounted rates for local residents and continuing to operate it as a public course. His company would assume control of the waterfront spot on Key Biscayne and retain the bulk of any profit Trump can generate from what is now a money-losing course, according to Trump's proposal.
The Miami Herald disclosed Trump's Crandon ambitions this week, prompting Gimenez's recusal memo. Gimenez wrote commissioners that he just learned Miami-Dade had received an unsolicited proposal from Trump about Crandon.
Aides later clarified that Gimenez meant he was unaware of the proposal's arrival, since he played an active role in the Trump organization's interactions with Miami-Dade since 2013.
Gimenez and Trump last year traded letters on the celebrity developer's interest in Crandon, and the mayor met with top aides and Russo in early 2014 about a possible deal.
In late 2013, Russo said he traveled to Crandon with Trump and a golf pro to play with Gimenez. He later proposed spending $10 million improving the course in exchange for a management contract.
Gimenez's recusal this week left Jean Monestime, as the County Commission's chairman, authorized to recommend to fellow commissioners whether to accept Trump's proposal. County rules governing unsolicited proposals give commissioners the option of rejecting Trump's plan outright, or using it as the framework for a bidding process that would let other would-be managers try to beat Trump's offer.
That process is expected to get started this spring. In his interview, Russo said Trump hadn't received any special treatment from the Gimenez administration, even with one of the mayor's sons, Carlos J. Gimenez, working as a Trump lobbyist in Doral.
"What help have I received?" Russo asked. "I should have been on the [County Commission] agenda four months ago... If I could have picked up the phone and got the mayor's help, maybe I would have gotten the approvals already."