By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Locked in a heated battle for Miami-Dade County commissioner against an opponent who’s loaned her campaign an audacious $1.2 million, Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez got a free promotional boost during the last three months of the race via a no-bid $15,000 television ad campaign on CBS4 purchased by the city’s public affairs unit. Bermudez gets the starring role in the 30-second spot.
Bermudez and Doral’s head spokeswoman, Maggie Santos, insisted the short clip is strictly about promoting the city as a place to live and work, but one of the mayor’s fervent critics alleges the commercial narrowly skirts being an unreported campaign expenditure using municipal resources for prohibited election purposes, a violation of state law that carries a criminal misdemeanor charge as a potential penalty.
“When I saw him doing a commercial plugging the city while he is running for [higher] office, it made me mad,” Doral civic activist Richard Glukstad told Florida Bulldog. “He is using the city to fund his campaign for the commission seat and nobody is batting an eye.”
In a Florida Bulldog phone interview, Bermudez dismissed Glukstad’s accusations, claiming he had not even seen the television commercial, which began airing during CBS4 morning newscasts on June 13, according to city records. The ads ran through Aug. 14, one week after early voting began. Election day in the race is Aug. 23. Bermudez also said he was not involved in the decision-making process for the CBS4 campaign.
“We always do commercials with Channel Four,” Bermudez said. “I don’t think it’s connected to my campaign at all. It’s about the City of Doral. I am the mayor. I have a right to be in those commercials.”
BERMUDEZ VS LACAYO
Bermudez is Doral’s first mayor, serving from 2003 to 2012. After a four-year hiatus from city politics, Bermudez returned to his old post in 2016. Four years later, he won re-election. He has tendered his resignation which becomes effective when a new mayor is elected on Nov. 8 in a special election to replace him.
Bermudez is the presumed front-runner to win the District 12 County Commission seat being vacated by termed-out Jose “Pepe” Diaz. Bermudez has won endorsements from fellow District 12 municipal mayors in Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Medley and Sweetwater, as well as the unions representing county police, firefighters and other rank-and-file employees.
But he’s going up against firebrand and would-be usurper Sophia Lacayo, a former Sweetwater commissioner who resigned in August 2020 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge. She received one year of probation, during which time she could not run for office. When she ran for the city council, she did not live in Sweetwater and lied on her qualifying documents that she did, according to a Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office public corruption probe.
Unshackled by the end of her probation, Lacayo is gunning hard for the District 12 seat, even attempting to have her criminal case sealed when she filed to run in June. Lacayo, who did not respond to a Florida Bulldog phone call and a text message seeking comment, dropped her request after state prosecutors objected on the basis the public has a right to know about a candidate’s past offenses when they held elected office, according to the Miami Herald.
Lacayo, a resident of Doral after buying a five-bedroom home in the city for $2.8 million last year, claims to have a net worth of $24.8 million on her financial statement and has raised $1.24 million to oppose Bermudez, spending all but $3,000 of her war chest through Aug. 5, according to her campaign’s most recent financial report.
She personally loaned her campaign $1.19 million, and five of her corporations gave the maximum $1,000 each. Four of those companies received loans from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program totaling $747,900 between 2020 and 2021, according to ProPublica’s PPP loan online tracker. As recently as Aug. 1, Lacayo loaned her campaign $157,000.
Meanwhile, Bermudez’s campaign has raised $446,000 and spent $309,000, usually enough dough to win a typical county commission race. Against Lacayo, whose advertising falsely suggests endorsements from former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis while attacking Bermudez as a fake conservative even though it is a nonpartisan race, Doral’s mayor is at a monetary disadvantage when it comes to messaging.
A STARRING ROLE
During the past three months, the CBS4 ad has aired beyond Doral’s city limits, as far as Fort Lauderdale. Called “Eye on Doral,” the TV spot opens with a shot of Bermudez wearing a light blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a dark blue tie. Doral City Hall is in the background. “We’ve been through a lot lately,” Bermudez said in the commercial. “But one thing is for sure. During these challenging times, our community shines.”
The clip quickly cuts to a montage of parents with their kids, residents dancing, teens playing basketball and a concert with fireworks. Bermudez does a voice-over: “Looking for the best place to live, work, invest, learn and play? Well, we’ve got it all. Visit us today to enjoy all we have to offer. And remember to be safe and to be Doral proud.”
Bermudez told Florida Bulldog that he did not know any specifics about the TV commercial aside from filming his role in it. “I had nothing to do with it,” Bermudez said. “You need to ask our public information office and our clerk about the specifics.”
In an email, Doral spokeswoman Santos said the city’s public affairs unit filmed Bermudez’s intro and voice-over in 2020 as part of a TV commercial highlighting Doral as a safe place to enjoy many entertainment opportunities. The footage was reedited for the current CBS spot for branding and awareness to promote the city.
“Throughout the years the public affairs department has done numerous TV spots with the same intent of highlighting Doral to draw new residents, investors and visitors,” Santos said. “Mayor Bermudez appears as he is the spokesperson of the City of Doral, per the city charter.”
Doral City Clerk Connie Diaz said city purchases that do not exceed $15,000 do not require competitive bidding or city council approval. According to a Doral purchase order, the city’s public affairs department bought the airtime on Jan. 20 for exactly $15,000. The commercial aired more than a dozen times between June 13 and Aug. 14.
Bermudez accused Glukstad of trying to drum up negative stories about him to help Lacayo. “He’s the one gadfly we have,” Bermudez said. “Mr. Glukstad can do whatever he wants, but I think it’s unfair to claim the commercial is for my campaign.”
Glukstad said he’s got no love for Lacayo either and that she would likely be a terrible county commissioner should she win. However, Bermudez doesn’t deserve a free pass either, Glukstad said. “Unfortunately, this mayor is disrespecting his office,” Glukstad said. “He has a history of doing it. Once he gets elected, he’ll leave the city high and dry.”