Politics Makes for Strange ... Trashmen?

Old news: Joe Carollo was reinstated as Miami's mayor last month by a panel of judges at the Third District Court of Appeal. Old tradition: Any change in power in the mayor's office causes companies with an interest in city contracts to scramble to hire lobbyists who have the new leader's ear and who could turn that access to their advantage. Curious new development: Two of reinstated Mayor Joe Carollo's closest friends have signed on as lobbyists for one of the mayor's most celebrated foes.

Joseph Geller and George DePontis have registered as lobbyists for All Service Refuse Co., Inc., a garbage-hauling subsidiary of Republic Industries. Geller, a lawyer, lobbyist, and chairman of the Dade County Democratic Party, helped Carollo successfully challenge the results of the November mayoral election. DePontis is a campaign adviser and one of Carollo's closest confidants. The man behind Republic, of course, is Wayne Huizenga.

"Oooh, I haven't heard that," marveled Commissioner Tomas Regalado when he learned of the alliance. "Nobody is closer to Joe than those two. It means that you can be an enemy and that you can be a friend, because Joe used to hate Huizenga."

Carollo's history with Huizenga is famously bitter. The sports mogul strongly backed Carollo's successful campaign to return to the city commission in 1995. But only a year later, after Carollo had become mayor and while Huizenga's Florida Panthers hockey team was engaged in brutal lease negotiations to temporarily extend its stay at the Miami Arena, Carollo denounced Huizenga as "a very greedy, greedy man that wants to have a full monopoly in violation of U.S. antitrust laws."

When Carollo lost power this past November, Huizenga worked to secure a good relationship with new mayor Xavier Suarez. All Service paid State Rep. Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat (R-Miami) to push its agenda before the Miami City Commission. Rodriguez-Chomat, one of Suarez's strongest supporters, began lobbying commissioners to turn over control of the city's commercial waste contract to All Service. For years the contract has been split among some 30 smaller companies that pick up trash from private businesses, industrial sites, condominiums, and apartment complexes throughout the city. In exchange the haulers return a cut of their gross revenues to Miami.

That cut has been notoriously slow to come in -- or in some cases has simply failed to come in -- which left a tantalizing opening for Huizenga. To guarantee that the city profit from the pickup of its commercial garbage, Huizenga's firm offered to pay a substantial franchise fee upfront, estimated by those close to the negotiations at one million dollars (a figure All Service officials dispute) in exchange for exclusive rights to collect all commercial garbage in the city. A finished proposal never made it before the commission, though Commissioner Art Teele suggested an upfront franchise fee split among four companies, each paying $250,000.

For All Service, securing even a share of the city's commercial contract would be lucrative. The company, an established powerhouse in Broward County, has a weak presence in Dade and spent much of last year shopping for a locally based hauler to purchase. Negotiations with several firms went nowhere.

In response, and in fear for their livelihoods, the smaller waste haulers banded together last month and quickly agreed to pay all their old debts and to increase the percentage of their kickback to the city from fifteen to twenty percent. (It was only eight percent four years ago.) The issue seemed resolved.

But with Geller and DePontis now linked to All Service, and with their man Carollo securely in power, resolution is in doubt. "Obviously," Geller says, "I think [the issue] is on the table to some degree now. It's clear that many of the companies that have been serving the city have been ill-serving the city. I'm going to be urging some kind of reform. Obviously I will be suggesting that All Service be a part of that reform."

Geller laughs when asked if he's been hired to smooth over the relationship between the mayor and Huizenga. The lobbyist claims to have known the people at All Service long before Republic Industries purchased it (in 1995). "I've met Mr. Huizenga in passing once at a Marlins game when he shook hands with fans," Geller explains. "I posed for a picture with him, but I don't think he even knows me."

For his part, Carollo was so surprised to hear that Geller and DePontis had linked up with All Service that he immediately called Geller for confirmation. Even after Geller affirmed the alliance, Carollo insisted that there would be no change in his relationship with Huizenga. "Anybody is welcome to talk to me," the mayor clarified, "but that does not mean that I am going to be in agreement. You could look at history and see the list of lobbyists that have been very unhappy with me because they somehow thought I had to vote their way.

"I don't want to get into what's happened in the past," Carollo added. "If it's good for the city I am willing to put any past differences aside.


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