Five's a Crowd

Miami Mayor Joe Carollo wants to remain in public life, but there's one problem: His private life

Then he announced he was going to run again.

"People are very understanding and forgiving," Carollo said, referring to the gullible Cuban-American grandmothers who returned former Commissioner Humberto Hernandez to office despite a federal indictment. "They know a mayor who has done so much and sacrificed so much cannot be judged on one incident."

Carollo declared he deserved re-election on his record. He then announced that his top priority was building a new stadium for the Florida Marlins, which he promptly went out and failed to do.

Joe "Kid Terracotta" Carollo mugs for police paparazzi while Mari Carollo swears for the court that, yes, she knows how to make tea
AP/Wide World Photo
Joe "Kid Terracotta" Carollo mugs for police paparazzi while Mari Carollo swears for the court that, yes, she knows how to make tea
Mr. Big: Free at last to womanize, Carollo caresses the hips of Mexican songstress Lucía Méndez (left) and of former Miss Florida Lissette Gonzalez
Enrique Tubio
Mr. Big: Free at last to womanize, Carollo caresses the hips of Mexican songstress Lucía Méndez (left) and of former Miss Florida Lissette Gonzalez

Diego's restaurant in Coral Gables. A party for Isabel Fleitas, a bikini model better known as Sissi. Fleitas gained her small amount of fame as one of the babes prancing about the set of Sábado Gigante, pointing at tubes of Colgate toothpaste or boxes of Cap'n Crunch cereal. So accomplished is her pointing that her page has become the most popular link on the Univision Website. Last June she saw a chance to stoke her rising fame by releasing a calendar festooned with her image. The Coral Gables party introduced the calendar to Sissi's eager public.

In the audience sat Miami's mayor, straying from his city limits. Few present at the party knew at the time that Carollo was on the prowl. In hindsight, though, it was obvious. He brought his heaviest artillery: his stiff lips, his awkward gait, and -- this is key -- a key to the city. With a typically forced smile, he handed the key to Fleitas, tossing in a framed proclamation declaring June 13, 2000, to be "Sissi's Day" in the city he governs.

Sissi's reign lasted longer than one day. Just this past April, Carollo, free from jail and almost free from the shackles of marriage, brought Sissi as his date when he cohosted a black-tie dinner at Vizcaya for the visiting king and queen of Spain. Sissi stunned the buttoned-up crowd by arriving in a showy, low-cut white gown, Carollo's arm around her shoulder as he led her from the car. The rumors of an affair blossomed so vibrantly that Sissi felt compelled to go on Spanish-language television and deny a relationship. She did so while submerged in a hot tub. Carollo, who was invited to appear on air with Sissi, did not join her in the tub, though show hosts Raul de Molina and Lili Estefan did.

Perhaps because he'd already found another TV personality to squire.

Carollo followed up the king's dinner by attending the Billboard Latin Music Awards show with Diana Franco, former host of the Telemundo network's Edición Especial.

The constant company of beautiful women is only one facet of the mayor's burgeoning (and more than a little unsettling) masculinity. Joe "Kid Terracotta" Carollo has been seen recently hitting the heavy bags at a Hialeah boxing gym. His assimilation into the fight crowd has taken him as far as Las Vegas, where he accompanied Miami resident and world champion Joel Casamayor, a refugee from Castro's Cuba, for one of the boxer's recent title defenses.

Such manliness is almost shocking. "He just doesn't look like a sexual being," says one city hall observer, who asked not to be named. "If it weren't for the kids you'd think he reproduced by splitting in half or something. He's cold. I've always wondered if he's an android designed by aliens who haven't quite been able to convincingly replicate a human being, but they're beta-testing this version on us."

This insider is not the only one to have questioned Joe's capacity for sexual reproduction. His wife did it herself. As the weekly New Times reported last year, Joe and Mari Carollo filed a lawsuit in 1994 in which Mari claimed a tumble her husband suffered on an aluminum ladder cost her Joe's "services, society, and consortium," meaning sexual relations. The case, brought against the ladder's manufacturer and retailer, was settled in 1997 before it went to trial. All involved decline comment.

Now Carollo appears to have risen above that problem for good, apparently with the helping hands of physical therapists half his age.

"At least he's chasing good-looking women," comments a veteran Miami political wag who requested anonymity because he lives in the city. "I wouldn't want a mayor who wasn't getting laid regularly. The man has his finger on the millage rate, for chrissakes. He's not chasing chunky interns. At least he's a world-class adulterer, as befits a world-class city. Miami needs nine sports stadiums, and a racetrack, and a telenovela queen screwing the mayor. He's our ambassador of love. He's the adulterer of the Americas."

May 12. The chic nightclub Jimmy'Z at the Forge on Miami Beach. A birthday party for hit-and-miss political kingmaker Herman Echevarria. The entertainment: sultry Mexican actress Lucía Méndez serenading the Hialeah mastermind of many a losing campaign with her throaty rendition of "Happy Birthday to You."

In the audience Joe Carollo beamed with pride. Méndez was his date. Guests at the party observed the mayor and the Latin diva canoodling in a booth. Published reports listed handholding, caresses, and a kiss on the neck.

As he did with Sissi, Carollo denied he has a new girl. But Méndez has undermined his spin several times in interviews on Spanish-language television, saying that she and the mayor are good friends and that he's such a nice man and handsome, too.

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