CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Both U.S. Rep. David Rivera and Joe Garcia, who are running for the seat in District 22, appeared at the same forum on Tuesday morning but didn't take the stage together.
AARP set up the forum, which it billed as a conversation between congressional opponents in Coral Gables. The plan was to have the pair speak together.
But instead, Garcia spoke for about an hour.
"Look, we were here to talk about the issues one way or another. We had prepared for a vigorous back and forth. It's something that requires a little preparation, Michael, but it's something we were ready to do," said Garcia.
Rivera waited until Garcia left the room before taking the stage.
"I think the fiscal irresponsibility that we have seen in Washington in recent years is unacceptable," said Rivera. "First of all, in terms of my opponent possibly achieving things in Washington, mine opponent won't be able to achieve anything in Washington because in the House of Representatives at least, the Democratic minority, which it will be a minority in the next Congress because all the numbers and polls are showing that Republicans will probably maintain control of the House of Representatives, but the Democratic minority has chosen to abstain from having any constructive role in the legislative making process."
Sources have told Local 10 that Rivera is under FBI investigation, accused of strategizing and possibly paying for the campaign of a Democratic opponent, Justin Lamar Sternad. He has denied that an investigation is under way.
"This is not about investigations. This is about the issues that matter to people in South Florida, 800,000 people," said Garcia. "When this gentleman gets up, he stands up for all of us, and either we have someone that is going to stand up for the truth or we have someone who's fabricating stuff to get to the next electoral cycle."
Garcia appears to be benefitting from Rivera's troubles. A recent poll shows Garcia with 46 percent to Rivera with 35 percent.
"Congressman, AARP wanted this to be a conversation, I mean generally a debate between you and Joe Garcia. Why didn't you agree to come and sit on the same stage with him?" Local 10's Michael Putney asked Rivera.
"Actually, that's not the case. This was always organized as a forum for all the incumbent members of Congress as well as all the challengers," replied Rivera.
Rivera recently appeared on "This Week in South Florida" and agreed to debate Garcia, but Garcia backed out, saying he wasn't given enough time to prepare.