A Brief History of Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo's Craziest Moments

Joe Carollo. Even uttering his name can raise the blood pressure among those who have followed Miami politics since the early '90s. Miamians tend to shrug off political lunacy, so it takes a special kind of elected official to earn the moniker "Loco Joe." Remember when a shark rode Metromover in 2009 and most locals simply shrugged and moved on? Even those people think Carollo is crazy, and not in a funny way.

After taking a brief break from politics, the former Miami mayor was elected to the city commission last fall, because there are apparently only six political candidates in South Florida and they all get to return to office eventually. Carollo was back in the news this week after making a racist remark comparing Ken Russell, Miami's first Asian-American city commissioner, to Kim Jong-un.

When Carollo was campaigning last year, it was pretty obvious this type of nonsense would happen again if he won. Just consider this brief history of "Loco Joe" being, well, himself.

1. He allegedly threw a teapot and/or cardboard container at his wife's head.

Joe Carollo was arrested in 2001 for hitting his wife so hard he left a golf-ball-size welt on her head. One of the then Miami mayor's young daughters called 911 and begged, "Help, my dad is hurting my mom! Please come now, please!" as a woman's screams were heard in the background. The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office eventually dropped domestic violence charges against Carollo because he agreed to attend anger-management courses.

Now, "Crazy Joe" Carollo — one of Miami's most infamous political characters who has somehow kept his political career alive for decades despite acting like a Trumpian lunatic long before the Orange One ever entered politics — is back. He's preparing for a runoff election Tuesday, November 21, against challenger Alfonso "Alfie" Leon for Miami's District 3 city commission seat, which his brother Frank currently occupies. Joe Carollo is the likely frontrunner against Leon and received a fairly glowing Miami Herald profile today about his return to local politics and vampiric ability to survive character assassination after character assassination.
2. He tried to use the city to do favors for rich foreigners.

And in a memo dated June 22, 1982, [then police Chief Kenneth] Harms wrote he'd never encountered a public official as crazy, conspiratorial, and transparently corrupt as Carollo.

At the time, Carollo had been personally involved in handing the key to the city of Miami to Sheikh Mohammed Al-Fassi, a Moroccan businessman who'd married into the Saudi royal family. According to the New York Times, Al-Fassi had recently relocated to Miami after pissing off his former Beverly Hills neighbors by painting genitalia on the statues erected on his property. After moving to South Florida, Al-Fassi proposed building a Big Ben-style clock tower on Star Island that would have bellowed the time in three languages every hour. His neighbors hated the idea.

But Carollo apparently had a soft spot for the sheikh. According to the memo from Harms to then-City Manager Howard Gary, Carollo repeatedly pressured the chief to give Al-Fassi presidential-style motorcades to shuttle the businessman to city meetings, charity events, his home, and even the Diplomat Hotel in Broward County. Harms said he repeatedly refused, claiming motorcades were reserved for the U.S. president and vice president and some visiting heads of state. But at one event, Harms relented and sent a plainclothes security detail, and someone responded by trying to pay off each cop with $100. At a second event, the chief complained that someone tried to slip the cops an envelope containing $600.

At a May 2 meeting that year, Harms also said the sheikh had asked Carollo for a gun.

3. He smeared a city employee by bringing up the man's arrest record in a commission meeting.

Al Crespo has never been shy about his past. Before he became a pugnacious blogger, he robbed banks and served years in prison. So when Crespo watched Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo publicly shame a city employee last night over an old arrest record, he became so irate he hopped into his car and sped to Dinner Key to lambaste Carollo in front of the commission.

"I'm a man who has robbed banks, and I'm a man who has come before this commission in the past, and I'm a man who has been attacked for his past," Crespo, his voice shaking with emotion, told Carollo. "You and I have known each other a long time, Joe, and you've never had any question about my robbing banks when you wanted to talk to me or ask my opinion."

Crespo's remarkable speech set off a heated, only-in-Miami exchange in which an equally emotional Carollo defended himself and blasted the "sickening" corruption he said he'd witnessed at city hall since he was elected last fall.

"Frankly, I don't need to be in this seat. I almost wish I would not have ran because the corruption I have found since I ran is sickening," Carollo said. "I'm tired of shaking hands with people where normally I wouldn't be within 100 miles of them, and I have to go wash my hand from the slime after I do that because they are so corrupt."

4. He accused his opponents of being communists.

Via the Miami Herald:

Regalado the candidate said Wednesday in an interview that he’s trying to stay positive and focus on the issues, but noted he would respond. His campaign later released a statement evoking the “Crazy Joe” moniker adopted by the former mayor’s enemies during his tumultuous previous stints at City Hall and accusing him of “abusing power, profiting from taxpayers and using government resources to intimidate his political opponents.” They said they’d been subject to another Carollo attack, this one on television claiming communist ties.

“It’s pathetic that career politician Joe Carollo has now for a fourth time in under a week resorted to false accusations and negative attacks. It shows that Joe will say and do anything, no matter how ludicrous and false, to try and get attention,” the statement said.

5. He went berserk during the Elián González affair.

Carollo became a staple on the nightly talk shows. In the last month of the Elián 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 Elián'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 Elián 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 Elián-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 Elián 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."

Former mayors Ferre and Suarez are disgusted by Carollo's performances.

"That's the guy who is out in the public representing Miami?" Ferre scoffs. "That's where he excels: insulting people."
6. He betrayed the mayor during a live news conference.
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.")
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.