Former Rep. Joe Geller raised more than $45,000 in less than a month toward his bid for the District 3 seat on the Miami-Dade County School Board.
His two opponents raised less than $1,000 combined.
Between Sept. 11, when Geller entered the race to succeed outgoing School Board member Lucia Baez-Geller — a fellow Democrat with whom Geller has a friendship but no relation — he collected $30,480 through his campaign account and $15,000 through his political committee.
Most of his gains came through about 70 personal checks. Noteworthy donors included Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman, lobbyist Ron Book, former North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph, former Dade County Bar Association President Kendall Coffety and former Sen. and Miami-Dade Commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the brother of embattled former Miami City Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla.
Geller’s largest donation was a $10,000 contribution from Miami-based political consulting firm Palm Media. The company’s owner, Jeffrey Garcia, gave another $1,000.
He also accepted $6,000 from Floridians for a Stronger Tomorrow, the political committee of his brother, Broward County Commissioner Steven Geller, and $1,000 from the political committee of former Bay Harbor Islands Mayor Jordan Leonard, who ran to succeed Geller in House District 106 last year.
“I am grateful for the early outpouring of support for my campaign,” Geller said in a statement.
“This support shows the people of Miami-Dade have faith in my unwavering commitment to the well-being of our students, teachers, and families. With a strong emphasis on school safety, inclusivity, and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed, I am ready to lead our community to a brighter future on the School Board.”
One of Geller’s two opponents may be familiar to residents living along Miami-Dade’s northeast coast: Gustavo Ortega, a special education teacher and fellow Democrat who also ran last year to succeed Geller in HD 106.
Since filing to run for the School Board in late August, Ortega added $750, including a $500 self-loan.
He reported spending about $200 on website services.
Ortega told Florida Politics he is opening a political committee and will soon begin seeking donations through it. He said he will run a grassroots campaign funded by small donors “and not lobbyists.”
“My message to voters will be simple: Who do you want as a school board member, a teacher or a politician?” he said.
Geller’s other opponent is Hayley Ross. Her husband, Douglas John Ross, competed in the Republican Primary last year for HD 106, ultimately losing to Rep. Fabián Basabe.
After filing to run on Sept. 20, she transferred $200 from her bank account to her campaign and spent it all on treasury work by West Palm Beach-based Williams Accounting Services.
Florida Politics spoke briefly with Ross by phone Thursday morning, but she hung up after about a minute and did not disclose her professional background, political affiliation or whether she has or plans to open a political committee.
She said she would call back, but did not and hasn’t answered the phone since.
District 3 of the School Board covers nearly all of Miami-Dade’s coastline and encompasses 30 or so schools.
Baez-Geller, a progressive, LGBTQ-friendly voice on the nine-member panel, confirmed in August that she will forgo an attempt at re-election next year.
School Board races in Miami-Dade are nonpartisan, meaning all candidates compete against one another regardless of party. If any candidate secures more than 50% of the vote during the Aug. 20, 2024, Primary Election, that person will secure victory outright.
If none do so, the two candidates with the most Primary votes will compete in a runoff culminating in the General Election on Nov. 5, 2024.
This report was updated to include a comments from Ortega.