Representatives of Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis say a former Hialeah lawmaker who resigned 12 years ago after using racial slurs during a drunk and threatening tirade with a colleague is not co-chairing a Coral Gables fundraiser next week, despite what's stated on materials produced by the campaign.
The Miami Herald on Thursday obtained an invitation for a $10,000-a-head fundraiser for DeSantis at the Biltmore Hotel, scheduled for the evening of Sept. 20. Luminaries like former Gov. Jeb Bush were named as chairs of the event, but a co-chair list included a more infamous name: Ralph Arza.
Arza resigned as a state representative in 2006 after he and a cousin left threatening messages on the voice mail of a fellow lawmaker who had filed an ethics complaint alleging that Arza used racial slurs when discussing Miami-Dade's black schools chief. Arza had previously denied calling Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew a "n—-er," but admitted that he used the word in recorded voice messages left for state Rep. Gus Barreiro.
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Arza blamed the incident with Barreiro on alcohol and denied that he was a racist, but pleaded guilty in 2007 to two misdemeanor counts of tampering with a witness and received 18 months probation. He is now a lobbyist.
Arza's presence as a host of a swanky fundraiser would be a problem for DeSantis, who has defended himself against charges of racism during the first weeks of his general election campaign against Andrew Gillum, the black mayor of Tallahassee.
The morning after the two men won their respective primaries, DeSantis caused a firestorm by saying Florida voters would take the state’s purring economy and “monkey this up” by endorsing Gillum’s progressive agenda. DeSantis has also had to address questions this week about a Washington Post story highlighting his attendance at four conferences hosted by a conservative activist who argues that white people should be viewed by history as the liberators of black slaves in America.
"Clearly disagree with that," DeSantis told Politico Florida Wednesday during a visit to the Everglades in South Florida when asked about Horowitz's tweets regarding slavery.
Arza remains a regular face in Miami politics, despite his history. Last year, for instance, he was named as a co-host for a Coral Gables fundraiser for now-Miami Mayor Francis Suarez that was also to be attended by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
But DeSantis' campaign says Arza is, in fact, not a party to next week's event. The flier obtained by the Herald, which included campaign disclaimers, was a draft sent only to the chairs of the event, according to the campaign.
An invitation purported to be a final copy did not include Arza's name, which the campaign explained was submitted by local GOP operatives as a willing Republican in Miami happy to help. After vetting, Arza's name was removed, according to DeSantis' campaign. All the other listed chairs and co-chairs remain involved with the event.
Arza told a reporter Thursday afternoon that he was on a flight and would be able to talk later. But he said in a subsequent email that he was not involved with the fundraiser.
"For the record I am not a co-chair for the event. Don't know how my name got on that. I am actually out of town on that date," he said. "Let's assume it was an honest mistake."