Dennis Neutze stood outside under the blazing south Florida sun at 4 p.m. on Monday, waiting to escape the heat and enter Freedom Tower.
Red, white and blue lights shine on Freedom Tower on Monday night, after Sen. Marco Rubio announced his bid for the 2016 presidential election. Refugees who fled Cuba in the 1960s, away from Fidel Castro’s communist regime, were processed and documented inside Freedom Tower. Jose Zozaya / WUFT News
Neutze, 72, waited outside wearing a black-and-red designed T-shirt that read “Rubio for President 2016,” with the first-term senator’s face plastered on it.
Hundreds more gathered on that same sidewalk in downtown Miami — right on Biscayne Boulevard — to witness Sen. Marco Rubio publicly announce he will run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
“I think (Rubio) is a decent human being that’s going to do what’s best for the country and not what’s best for him,” Neutze said.
News of the senator’s bid leaked early, but that did not deter Rubio’s camp from hosting the live declaration at a location revered by south Florida’s Hispanic community.
Rubio told supporters inside the tower’s main room he hopes to usher in “a new American century,” remembering the country’s history and past lessons, while also looking toward the future.
Rubio is the third Republican senator to launch his campaign for the White House in 2016, along with fellow Cuban-American Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul.
All three contenders will not have completed their first terms as senators of their respective states — like former Illinois senator and current President Barack Obama — before running for president.
More GOP politicians will launch their own presidential campaigns over the coming months. The next likely candidate is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who acted as Rubio’s mentor when he served as Speaker of the House in Florida’s state congress from 2007 to 2009.
Neutze and other supporters left Monday’s event feeling hopeful for Rubio’s campaign. He said Rubio is not another Washington politician, but a man who understands what it means to be a public servant.
As the mass of spectators gathered outside, red, white and blue lights lit up Freedom Tower, a symbol of Rubio’s version of the American dream his campaign plans to use.
Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, was born and raised in Miami. His father worked as a bartender, and his mother earned a living as a maid.
Rubio’s Floridian roots, however, do not stop just at the state’s southern end.
After attending one year at Tarkio College in Missouri on a football scholarship, Rubio returned to his native state and continued his education at Santa Fe College.
He eventually transferred to the University of Florida and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in political science in 1993.
According to Rubio’s memoir, though he did include a chapter about his time in North Central Florida, he felt more comfortable returning to Miami and graduating from the University of Miami Law School in 1996.
Juan Felipe Gers, 23, said he understands the bond Rubio felt that drew him back home after graduating.
Gers, a Georgia Tech graduate and Colombian immigrant who’s lived in south Florida for 14 years, said he feels Rubio’s appeal is a platform focused on economic opportunity and education reform, which should attract Hispanic votes that may traditionally have gone to the Democratic Party.
“The Republican Party’s platform, ideologically, totally connects with a Latin American’s experience and upbringing — respecting individual’s rights, lowering taxes, having respect for private property,” Gers said.
Francisco Belette, 54, left Cuba when he was 8 years old and knows the experience Rubio’s parents had to go through to escape the reach of the Castro Regime.
Belette, an oncologist in Fort Lauderdale, said he’s proud of having someone like Rubio running in 2016, but he won’t win his automatic vote.
“I don’t vote for anyone based on an ethnic background or a religious background or anything like that,” Belette said. “I like to see the person, whether it’s a man or a woman, and see what they are going to offer us as a future to make this country better and to lead us ahead.”
Others have voiced opposition to Rubio’s campaign.
Protestors also gathered outside of Freedom Tower to voice their disappointment with Rubio’s recent separation from immigration reform and his controversial views on environmental conservation.
Rubio introduced an immigration reform bill to Congress in 2013, but the bill gained no traction. He has since advocated for stronger border security.
Maria Palacios, the daughter of an undocumented immigrant, held posters and chanted “Undocumented, Unafraid!” with members from United We Dream, a student-led organization that advocates for undocumented immigrant rights.
As a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows certain undocumented immigrants to receive a renewable, two-year work permit, Palacios said she will not let politicians like Rubio undo policies that benefit undocumented immigrants.
Immigrant rights activists protest outside Freedom Tower during Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign announcement Monday afternoon. The sign, written in Spanish, reads, “Rubio’s dream is our nightmare. Jose Zozaya / WUFT News
“He is attacking our community,” Palacios said, “and we are coming for him.”
Belette’s wife, Ivette, 43, is proud of how far the Hispanic community has advanced in contributing meaningfully to American politics.
The daughter of Cuban immigrants herself, Ivette Belette said she’s waiting to see what Rubio will do regarding the Obama administration’s approach to slowly lifting the Cuban Embargo enacted in 1960.
Rubio has publicly voiced his displeasure with the current White House administration’s diplomatic talks with Raul Castro and a regime that has had a dismal track record with human rights.
“I can understand that things about the embargo have not worked,” Ivette Belette said. “But if you’re going to change things, tell me how (we’re) going to help human rights. What are you going to get for them in return for this change?”
The next presidential election will not be held until Nov. 8, 2016. Until then, the challenges Rubio faces will come from his own party as he fights for the Republican nomination.