The Return of Loco Joe

Miami's mayoral meltdown has a long and nasty history

But Carollo hadn't changed into a pacifist. If you believe his critics, he continued his divisive ways. He just hid them. For instance Warshaw disclosed recently that Carollo requested police to investigate four of five commissioners. Carollo allegedly wanted to probe Tomas Regalado for excessive charges on a city-issued credit card and a gas card; Arthur Teele to make sure he lived in his district; Willie Gort, who allegedly got a sweetheart deal on a new roof for his home; and Joe Sanchez for unspecified reasons. Several commissioners confirm those reports.

Carollo counters the list is an absurd concoction by Warshaw. "This is so outrageous," he fumes. "Why didn't he go immediately to the FBI? Why did he wait until after I fired him to release it? He had a legal obligation to file a formal complaint against me with law enforcement if this was true." (Gov. Jeb Bush last week appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the claims.)

Two city hall insiders also claim Carollo was angry because he received insufficient credit for reversing the city's financial tailspin. During a March meeting with Warshaw, Carollo told the manager he needed more publicity. "Carollo told [Don]: 'I'm the mayor of Miami. I'm the one who has to face the voters. I want my name and face in the paper every day,'" recalls a source familiar with the meeting. The mayor gave Warshaw 30 days. Carollo confirms the encounter took place and identifies it as the time he put the manager on probation; he won't comment further.

When Carollo's upper lip disappears, someone's going to get hurt
When Carollo's upper lip disappears, someone's going to get hurt
When Carollo's upper lip disappears, someone's going to get hurt
Steve Satterwhite
When Carollo's upper lip disappears, someone's going to get hurt

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle recalls discussing the allegations against Regalado with the mayor: "He met with me a couple of times. He said he wanted his police department to be aggressive in public corruption. There was a point where Carollo believed he had subpoena powers, and we tried to discourage him from using them in order to let law enforcement do their job."

Then on Thanksgiving Day, a little rafter boy named Elian Gonzalez was rescued at sea.

At first the mayor was missing from the parade of politicians at the Little Havana home of the boys' relatives. But in February he began visiting to chat up reporters and meet with family representatives. Because of Carollo's Pedro Pan past, he says, he strongly identified with Elian. Like the boy Carollo came to a strange land at age six and was surrounded by strangers for six months. That empathy, as well as his politician's eye for opportunity, led him to dive headfirst into the custody controversy. "He seized the opportunity to gain popularity with a constituency where he has been unpopular for a long time," says Xavier Suarez.

Carollo became a staple on the nightly talk shows. In the last month of the Elian saga, he appeared dozens of times on television and radio. One of his favorite venues was CNBC's Rivera Live with Geraldo Rivera. He made nine appearances. He also talked on Radio Mambí almost every day. The hectic schedule took a toll. As he ran from broadcast to broadcast, his professional demeanor seemed to melt. The mayor saw conspiracies everywhere. He was one of the first to publicly espouse the theory that Elian's reunion photo with his father was a fake. "If you look at photos of when the boy was taken, on both sides of the face you see that the hair was much shorter than six, seven, eight hours later when the other photos were taken," he declared on the Fox News Channel talk show Hannity & Colmes on April 25.

When the feds announced they believed several Elian supporters at the house had guns, Carollo objected on Hannity in a rambling April 28 tirade: "The only people that were trying to somehow get some guns in there and trick people to bring guns in there was the Castro agents."

(Carollo has repeatedly said he was enraged that O'Brien did not call to alert him of the raid. It was humiliating, he adds, that he had to hear about it from a supporter.)

Carollo diverted Elian-inspired anger against his administration by blaming Donald Warshaw. On radio he urged commissioners to oust the manager. At any other time, Carollo, who has famously feuded with the commission, would not have support for the action. He denied the dismissal had anything to do with the Elian case. Few believed him.

During an April 25 appearance on Hannity, Carollo alleged Warshaw helped plot the raid to win favor with the feds, whom the mayor claimed were investigating the manager. "I suspect very strongly that the actions that [Warshaw] had our police chief take that Saturday was to buy him a few IOUs with the Justice Department," he opined.

The appearances were a kind of catharsis for the mayor. "Many times I had to hold myself back in the middle of a national TV interview, because I was having flashbacks [to fleeing Cuba as a little boy]," he says. "The reason I could go on for so many days without sleep is that I really believed in this."

Meanwhile boxes of bananas began arriving at city hall, mocking the mayor, and prompting him to tell Geraldo Rivera on May 1: "You know, these racist remarks of calling us a banana republic when we don't grow bananas commercially in Miami. We don't export bananas, only import them. This is racist."

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