The Return of Loco Joe

Miami's mayoral meltdown has a long and nasty history

Carollo didn't comment on Harms's specific allegations during an hourlong interview, but generally he said, "None of that is true. The truth is I caught Kenneth Harms in an illegal investigation of me and my family." Harms was trying to protect himself, the mayor adds.

Harms can't comment on the dispute except to chuckle and say, "Unless something changes dramatically, history is bound to repeat itself. All I can say is that those memos accurately reflected what I believed at the time." Harms retired in 1984 after suing the city for violating its contract with him. The settlement of that lawsuit prohibits him from talking about commissioners' actions.

In 1982 Carollo started what he termed an "executive-protection firm" called Genesis Security. In the next few years, two grand juries investigated Carollo to determine whether he used his position to help Genesis clients secure city business. Although no charges were ever filed, one jury report stated there was at least the "appearance of a conflict of interest," according to news accounts from that time.

Former Mayor Maurice Ferre describes Carollo's best traits: "He really excels in confrontations and insulting people."
Steve Satterwhite
Former Mayor Maurice Ferre describes Carollo's best traits: "He really excels in confrontations and insulting people."
Few heeded Robert Macaulay's warnings that the New Joe is the same Old Joe
Steve Satterwhite
Few heeded Robert Macaulay's warnings that the New Joe is the same Old Joe

Carollo also clashed frequently with Mayor Maurice Ferre. In 1983, during what Ferre thought was a truce, the mayor called a press conference so Carollo could endorse him for mayor. But in front of a room filled with TV and print reporters, Carollo bluntly declared, "I will not vote for Maurice Ferre." Many commentators called it the most famous double-cross in Miami's political history. "The man obviously has some very serious problems," Ferre says in retrospect. "He enjoys seeing people suffer. When he humiliates someone, you can see the gleam in his eyes." (Carollo maintains Ferre never approached him for an endorsement. "To double-cross somebody, you have to do something behind their back and I never told Maurice I would endorse him.")

Carollo also relentlessly attacked Howard Gary, Miami's first black city manager. He even voted to fire Gary in 1984, alienating many black voters in the process.

The time spent politicking cost him. In 1984 he and Karen, who had by then had two young children, divorced. "It's hard being married to a politician," he told Tropic magazine in 1996. About a year after the split, he married Maria Ledon.

Two years after his divorce, he single-handedly squelched a much-publicized deal, involving Cuban-exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa, former United Nations ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and others, to develop part of Watson Island. Carollo believed it was a sweetheart deal that would cost taxpayers. To derail the project, he claimed some of the companies involved in the transaction had business ties in Cuba; that assertion prompted some investors to back out. An enraged Mas Canosa challenged Carollo to a duel. The feisty commissioner responded that they should use water pistols so Mas Canosa could cool down.

Carollo says the exchange improved city business practices. The so-called Carollo Amendment, which the commission approved after the Watson Island deal fell through, requires a voter referendum on sale of city property if there are less than three bidders.

To friends and supporters, Carollo's theatrics are the result of his intention to make Miami a better place. "I truly believe Joe is a honest guy who has principles and standards. He has a vision to make Miami a golden city," says Coconut Grove lawyer and Carollo backer Tucker Gibbs. "Unfortunately his personality clashes with others cloud this vision. And what we get as a result is a city in turmoil and a community that is laughed at."

By 1987 Carollo's time had run out. His constant feuding, and the number of enemies he had earned cost him reelection. Victor De Yurre, son of a former Havana mayor, defeated him by a wide margin. Carollo would not regain public office for eight years.

Robert Macaulay, a Harvard-educated lawyer who has practiced in Miami since 1983, says despite press reports Carollo never changed. He has always been duplicitous.

In 1990, after leaving office, Carollo hired Macaulay to review a proposed investment in a Kendall-based Asian fast-food franchise called Samurai Sam Jr. As Macaulay describes it, the company's owner, Sid Shane, declined to produce financial statements. Macaulay warned Carollo the investment was risky. "He decided to go ahead anyway." Macaulay says. "I treated him like a big boy." It turned out Shane's finances were not in order. The franchises never opened. Carollo lost $25,000, according to court papers. Macaulay sued on behalf of Carollo and won a $48,000 summary judgment in 1992.

That year Carollo opened a restaurant called Shogun Joe's, which served Japanese and Chinese food. "I make a mean special fried rice," he told the Herald. The restaurant flopped. He ended up owing Macaulay $16,000 in legal fees. Carollo pleaded poverty, Macaulay says. "He told me he didn't have a penny to his name." The lawyer shows some handwritten notes from a 1992 conversation that he contends prove Carollo told him "I'm insolvent. I have a $6000 car, that's it." Carollo allegedly even said he was pondering bankruptcy. Macaulay asserts the former politico claimed he had also fallen behind on his child support payments to Karen.

Carollo vehemently denies this. "Absolutely not. I never said that," the mayor declares. "It is amazing how much hate Mr. Macaulay has for me and my family."

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