Rep. Danny Perez enters Miami-Dade politics — as precursor to mayoral run?

What is State Rep. Daniel “Danny” Perez doing getting all involved in the proposed Miami-Dade subsidies for the World Cup? This week, the Miami Herald published a story in which Perez came out against a move to give $46 million away for the privilege of hosting seven World Cup matches in 2026.

Perez, a Republican representing House District 116 (Westchester), says no public funds should go to the “elites of FIFA,” referring to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, which organizes the international tournament every four years, and that the money should go to other needs, of which there are plenty.

Ladra would go out on a paw here and say that most county taxpayers feel the same way. But Perez wading into a county issue like this is new. While the incoming speaker might be well known to political insiders as one of the most powerful Republican legislators in the state, Perez is pretty much a mystery to Joe Voter. Like a 79-year-old Republican from Kendall said the day after the story about his opposition to the subsidies came out in The Miami Herald: “Who’s Danny Perez?”

And that’s gonna have to change if he wants to run for Miami-Dade Mayor in 2026.

Las malas lenguas say that’s what this is about.

Read related: Kendall residents worry re 5G towers that pop up suddenly by their homes

A popular Cuban-American legislator, Perez will be termed out in 2026. And Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is widely expected to be seeking either to run for governor or get some kind of cabinet position in the Joe Biden administration, assuming that she holds on to County Hall and he holds on to the White House this November. Which is, come on, likely. Perez could be looking to run for the seat and this would be a perfect way to begin to expand his county profile.

Perez said Saturday, however, that his position on the subsidies “has nothing to do with my political ambition.”

That’s not a no to running for mayor.

“I don’t know what opportunities are going to exist once I’ve finished my term,” Perez told Ladra in between pickleball games. He said he is focusing on getting Republicans elected in November — he can’t be at the county meeting Tuesday because he’s at a fundraiser in D.C. — and, then, his upcoming speakership. “After that, only the good Lord knows.”

That sounds suspiciously like a yes, in fact.

Perez says he just expressed his opinion as a county resident and taxpayer who knows intimately the litany of needs that exist. “And instead of addressing them, we’re giving millions of dollars to an international organization with little to no oversight or accountability,” he says.

County commissioners will on Tuesday consider a resolution that would provide the non-profit Greater Miami Sports Commission Inc. with $21 million in cash — $3 mil for each of the seven matches — and $25 million worth of in-kind county services (mostly police and fire rescue) for all events. This is the host committee whose members include Rodney Barreto, Ken Griffin and Jorge Mas, among others. The resolution is sponsored by Commission Chair Oliver Gilbert, whose district includes the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, where seven matches will be played in June and July, 2026.

There will also be events at other venues, including the Miami Beach Convention Center, Bayfront Park in Miami, and Barry University in Miami Shores.

The World Cup, representing 48 countries, is considered the single biggest sporting event in the world, with an audience greater than the Summer Olympics, the Tour de France, Formula 1, the Super Bowl and Rugby World Cup combined, according to the county resolution.

It is expected that more than 600,000 fans, players, staff, executives and sponsors from around the world come here, mostly through Miami International Airport, and make an economic impact of $500 million — although there is no back-up documentation supporting that figure.

Levine Cava has also expressed concern about the giveaway. “While we know the World Cup matches will generate increased tax revenues with millions of visitors coming to participate in the excitement, the amount of the county obligation is significant,” she said in a statement Monday.

Proponents will say that they’ve been courting the World Cup for 15 years and that hosting the events will boost Miami-Dade’s tourism industry and showcase the region to billions of viewers around the world on various media platforms.

Big deal, says Perez.

“Tourism is going to happen in Miami no matter what,” he said Saturday. “FIFA is not doing us a favor. They want to come here because people already want to come here. Wichita, Kansas, could have given $46 million and wouldn’t have gotten the World Cup.

“We’re Miami, and we shouldn’t sell ourselves short,” Perez said. Ladra told him that could be a good slogan for his future mayoral campaign. He just laughed. Again, not a no.

Not that it’s going to be easy. As established, Perez is relatively unknown. Especially countywide. And there’s a bunch of other people who think they can be the next mayor, beginning with Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins, who raised $267,000 in the first quarter of this year without being on the ballot (more on that later). Gilbert and Commissioners JC Bermudez and Kevin Cabrera, who has been on the dais for less than a year, are each said to be considering a mayoral run. Commissioner Raquel Regalado, who ran for mayor in 2016 and forced Carlos Gimenez into a runoff, may also be getting an itch, although she is likely laser focused on her re-election this year.

Read related: Daniel Perez beats Jose Mallea to become next state rep in House 116

Daniel Anthony Perez was first elected in a special election in 2017 to replace former State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who ran for senate to replace Frank Artiles and lost. Perez beat Jose Mallea, a one-time aide to both Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, in a July primary with almost 55% of the vote, even though Mallea had more money and more name recognition and tried to make a big deal about Danny’s trip to Cuba with his then fiancé to visit her sick grandfather.

Perez then won the general in September with 66% in a solidly red District 116.

He later beat Frank Polo in the 2018 primary with a whopping 80% of the vote and went on to win the general with 57%.

Last year, Perez was nominated speaker-designate and he will assume the speakership in November, if he wins his re-election and the GOP holds the Florida House. Which is, come on, likely. So far, nobody has signed up to run against him. Perez, who has beaten back any challenge, is a powerful fundraiser who has raised more than $47 million for three different political action committees since 2017, including $35 mil for the Florida House Republican Campaign Committee.

For the last two sessions, he has sat on the appropriations committee and chaired the rules committee, which means he hasn’t really been sponsoring bills. But he was crucial in the post-Champlain Towers collapse changes to Florida condo inspection regulations, negotiating the 88-page bill with other lawmakers in 2022. He also has been a champion for Gov. Ron DeSantis, championing elaborate changes to vote-by-mail requirements and an “election integrity” bill that established the completely unnecessary Office of Election Crimes and Security, which some have called an “election gestapo.”

Perez is also credited with bringing state funds back to the district for school infrastructure and creating a pilot program to tackle a long waitlist for services at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Said Florida Politics in an article last year: “There’s more to Session than chairs and culture war issues, and Perez proved he knows what his real job is: coming through for the people of House District 116.”

For now, that includes opposing the possible expenditure of $46 million on seven soccer games.

“I hope there’s a deeper conversation than has been occurring,” Perez says.