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Democrat who lost House race in South Florida may challenge results over winner’s residency issue

The exterior of a third-floor apartment in Miami is seen in this Dec. 5, 2023, photograph that Rep.-elect Michael David Redondo, R-Miami, leased in June to qualify as a candidate in the Florida House District 118 special election, which he won Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. Redondo purchased a luxury, waterfront condominium in May 2023 that is 20 miles away and in District 113 and signed a 30-year mortgage for $727,000 that required him to live in the condo as his principal residence for at least one year. (Special to Fresh Take Florida/Fresh Take Florida).
The exterior of a third-floor apartment in Miami is seen in this Dec. 5, 2023, photograph that Rep.-elect Michael David Redondo, R-Miami, leased in June to qualify as a candidate in the Florida House District 118 special election, which he won Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. Redondo purchased a luxury, waterfront condominium in May 2023 that is 20 miles away and in District 113 and signed a 30-year mortgage for $727,000 that required him to live in the condo as his principal residence for at least one year. (Special to Fresh Take Florida/Fresh Take Florida).

The Democrat who narrowly lost a state House election in South Florida said Wednesday he may challenge the race result over revelations that his Republican opponent purchased a new condominium outside the district and signed a banking agreement requiring him to live there as his principal residence for at least one year.

Newly elected Rep. Michael David Redondo, R-Miami, stopped responding late Tuesday and Wednesday to a reporter’s repeated phone messages and texts asking about his residency issues. Redondo, who runs his law firm, said he leased an apartment behind a shopping center in House District 118 in June and updated his voter registration to be eligible to run there.

That was just days after Redondo bought a two-bedroom luxury, waterfront condominium for $950,000 that is 20 miles away in House District 113, according to property records. He signed a 30-year mortgage May 30 for $727,000 that required him to live in the condo as his principal residence for at least one year, records showed.

The residency clause in the mortgage Redondo signed required that he live in the 21st-floor, corner-unit condo starting no later than July 2023, or within 60 days after he signed the mortgage. The condo features two balconies with views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami, a private elevator, floor-to-ceiling windows and a stainless steel kitchen. His leased apartment across town has a view of a parking lot and the back of the shopping mall.

The provisions in the mortgage from Miami-based City National Bank of Florida mean that Redondo, 38, was either violating the banking contract he signed by living in the leased apartment since June – or if he was living in the luxury condo, he would not have been a resident of the district where he was elected Tuesday night.

With 52% of the vote, Redondo narrowly defeated Democrat Johnny Gonzalo Farias, 54, of Miami, who received 46% of the votes.

Farias said in an interview he was consulting election lawyers and other experts to see whether he could challenge the result or disqualify Redondo.

“Either he's living in the district, and not complying with his mortgage, which is a mortgage violation or mortgage fraud. Or he's living there, and he's committing election fraud,” Farias said.

Farias said he was exploring filing a formal complaint in the House, along with elections and ethics regulators. He said he also was considering filing a complaint with the Florida Bar since Redondo is an attorney. 

Asked Monday whether Redondo was violating the mortgage clause by living in an apartment across town, he said, "Not that I'm aware of." The mortgage is a publicly accessible document filed with the county clerk of court – a government office that, in this case, is overseen by the former incumbent Republican lawmaker in District 118 whom Redondo is replacing.

Under Florida law and the Legislature’s own rules, lawmakers take office immediately upon election. The requirement that a lawmaker live in the district takes effect “at the time of election,” according to House and Senate rules. Lawmakers are allowed to own multiple homes but can only have one principal, or legal, residence.

The Republican-led House adjudicates such issues for state lawmakers.

“It's a constitutional qualification that you have to be a resident of the district you represent,” said Mark Herron of Tallahassee, a lawyer who is a top expert on Florida’s election laws. “So, it is a serious matter if, in fact, he is not a resident of that district.”

The mortgage provision permits Redondo to live elsewhere but only with written approval in advance from the City National Bank of Florida. Redondo said he did not know whether he obtained that permission, in writing or otherwise. Such residency clauses are usually imposed by lenders offering a lower interest rate on a mortgage for a person's primary residence than would be available for an investment property.

A spokesman for the bank, Aaron Gordon, on Wednesday, said the bank does not discuss its clients as a matter of policy and privacy. 

Herron, the legal expert, had represented former Miami state Rep. Daisy Baez, a Democrat, who was forced in 2017 to resign from office and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge for lying about her address on a voter registration form. She accepted a plea deal that called for her to quit and serve one year of probation. 

Baez, who lasted less than a year in office, was not actually living in the district for which she was running in 2016. Investigators believe Baez lied when she filled out a voter registration form changing her address to a condo in the district days before the November 2016 election. She paid a $1,000 fine, took an ethics course and served one year of probation, during which she was banned from seeking public office.

Additionally, Redondo’s tax preparer submitted to the IRS his 2022 return on Aug. 7 this year – nearly two months after Redondo said he moved into the apartment in District 118 – and listed Redondo’s home address as the same building in District 113 where Redondo had purchased the luxury condo in May, records showed.

Redondo said he had been renting a different condo in the same building on the 34th floor since September 2020. He said he moved in June to the apartment on Southwest 122nd Avenue near the Kendallgate Shopping Center, which includes a pet store, a cosmetics store, a sneaker outlet and a crafts store.

One day before Redondo’s tax preparer signed and dated his return listing Redondo’s home address as the condo building, Redondo separately submitted a signed and notarized candidate oath to the Florida Division of Elections listing his home address as the apartment behind the shopping center, records showed.

The issues with Redondo’s addresses were discovered during routine election reporting on the race and its candidates by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. It discovered the issues Monday, too close to Election Day to report fairly without influencing the outcome of the race.

Asked Monday whether Redondo intended to live in the apartment during his entire time in the Legislature, Redondo answered, "God, no," and said he was still looking for a permanent home in District 118.

Turnout in the election was remarkably low, even by the standards of special elections in Florida. Just under 8% of the district’s voters cast a ballot. Last month’s primaries in the Florida House District 35 special election near Orlando saw Republican and Democrat turnouts exceed 18%.

Republicans won the House seat in Miami in 2021 by 37 percentage points. In Tuesday’s special election, that margin fell by more than 30 points to a little more than six.

Redondo and his allies spent $185,007 during the race which averaged $40.77 per vote, according to researcher Evan G. Smith of the University of Florida’s Election Lab, which studies elections and voting. Of the $261,517 Redondo raised, the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Republican House Campaign Committee kicked in $87,687.

Farias and his supporters spent $87,485 and received 3,997 votes at an average cost of $21.89 per vote. Democrat committees didn’t offer him any money.  

Responding to the close result, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, Nikki Fried, said on social media that Democrats “smell blood in the water” and included a shark emoji, suggesting that even heavily Republican districts in Florida may be more vulnerable than expected in 2024. The very low turnout in Tuesday’s election made it difficult to apply lessons from that race more broadly.

Farias said that, if he had received the same financial support from Democrats as Redondo did from Republicans, he would have won.

If cost per vote were a reliable indicator for winning votes, Farias would have needed to spend an additional $11,842 to close the 541-vote gap with Redondo. According to figures from the Florida Division of Elections, Farias had more than $17,000 in unspent cash in his campaign’s bank account on Election Night.

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This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at silas.morgan@ufl.edu. You can donate to support our students here.

 

Silas is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.