Joe Carollo has been involved in Miami politics for decades but has almost nothing to show for his actions beyond an impossibly long list of controversies, failures, accusations of lawbreaking, and petty feuds. Despite the fact that it's remarkably difficult to credit him with doing anything during his time in office to make Miami a better place for regular people, he continues to haunt City Hall year after year and throw tantrums about weird decades-old issues like the ghost of a vengeful toddler.
But a group of pissed-off Miamians says it wants to boot Carollo — who was mayor of Miami in the late 1990s and early 2000s — from the city for good. Today former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Juan Cuba and a team of local activists are launching a petition drive and political action committee to remove Carollo from his post as a city commissioner. The group says Carollo has repeatedly violated the law while in office, abused his power as an elected official to bully his rivals, and generally caused so much controversy that Miami politics has ground to a standstill. Those charges aren't exactly a surprise — the organizers cited stories by the Miami Herald and New Times as reasons for the petition drive.
"This guy is busier and more preoccupied with his petty political fights than he is with the problems of the city," Cuba says. "He's the reason why they adjourned a meeting without hearing a single agenda item this month. He's come up short on many of his campaign promises. He's more focused on just assuming more power and abusing that power than tackling the city's problems. Honestly, this came from me just reading the Herald, reading the New Times, and getting frustrated that nobody in this city is holding politicians accountable on anything." (Political Cortadito first reported on the recall drive.)
Cuba says he has used his connections in local politics to amass a team of about 30 people that will canvass Carollo's district to gather enough signatures to hold a recall election. Under city law, campaigns have 30 days from the time they file petitions at City Hall to gather signatures from 5 percent of registered voters in a candidate's district. From there, petitioners must start over, gathering signatures from 15 percent of the district within 60 days before a full recall election can begin.
Miami-Dade County has not seen a successful recall effort since Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez was booted in 2011 after he helped orchestrate the Marlins Park taxpayer boondoggle. Most observers credit Miami billionaire Norman Braman with helping provide the cash and PR muscle to turn the recall effort into a serious campaign — and political onlookers are now curious if Little Havana business owner Bill Fuller will lend some help to the recall drive. (Cuba says Fuller is not yet involved with the effort.)
That's because — as New Times broke in 2018 — multiple city officials told the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust that Carollo pressured them to harass employees at Fuller's properties, including the popular bar and nightclub Ball & Chain, to retaliate against Fuller for briefly helping Carollo's 2017 election opponent hold a campaign rally. Multiple city employees told the ethics board they received direct instructions from Carollo to either look into the areas near Fuller's properties or look directly into Fuller's real-estate ventures. As New Times wrote, some of the tactics Carollo was accused of using violated city law and, if substantiated, could be grounds for State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to remove him from office herself. At one point, Carollo was photographed wearing a dark hat and windbreaker as he sat in the driver's seat of an idling car outside one of Fuller's properties. In another instance, Carollo allegedly shouted, "I am the law!" in Spanish at one of Fuller's valet parking attendants.
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In 2018, the Herald reported that state prosecutors were looking into whether Carollo illegally used city money to pay for paella and party favors at a campaign stop for his pal Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who was running for Miami-Dade County Commission. That case remains open more than a year later. Prosecutors took no action in the case even as Diaz de la Portilla announced a new campaign for Miami's city commission and won a seat alongside Carollo last year.
The recent dysfunction is nothing new for Carollo, a man who as mayor enraged and baffled critics by accusing random opponents of having ties to Communist Cuba, once attempted to open an Asian-fusion restaurant called Shogun Joe's, at one point tried to procure a city-owned gun for a member of the Saudi royal family, and was once arrested for striking his wife in the head with a tea canister. Carollo and his allies on the dais — Commissioners Manolo Reyes and Diaz de la Portilla — have ground city politics to a halt in recent months. (Mayor Francis Suarez has been unable to mount a successful effort to rein in Carollo.) Carollo sparked a row with the city's police union after he was caught exaggerating his military record, successfully pushed City Manager Emilio Gonzalez to resign, and pissed off his fellow commissioners so brazenly this month that the city adjourned a January 9 commission meeting without hearing a single item.
Some critics, including Cuba, have described this Miami city government as the worst-functioning one they can remember. Cuba says he'll appear this morning with a team of other activists, including former Carollo aide Stephen Miró, who is now suing Carollo and the city for wrongful termination. Miró says he was fired from Carollo's office mere days after Carollo learned that Miró had spoken to state prosecutors looking into Carollo's ties to Diaz de la Portilla's paella party.
"I think this entire commission is probably the worst commission I’ve seen in my lifetime," Cuba says. "I’m not here to defend any of them. Frankly, I hope by recalling Carollo, it might send a message to the rest of them to clean up their acts."