The Return of Loco Joe

The tepid race to replace Miami Mayor Manny Diaz could soon get a shot of Sazon if the chatter emanating from city hall is true.

A handful of political consultants said earlier today that former Mayor Joe Carollo is seriously considering jumping into the contest. As of now, it looked like Commissioner Tomas Regalado was going to run over colleague Joe Sanchez.

Florida International University political science professor and local election prognosticator Dario Moreno says that for the past two or three weeks, he has heard from various lobbyists that Carollo is serious about entering the mayor's race.

"If Carollo gets in the race, he would definitely draw a lot of media attention," Moreno says. "He would definitely make it entertaining, and he would change the whole complexion of the mayor's race, which has been rather dull."

I spoke with three other political consultants who have heard similar rumblings, including powerhouse publicist Armando Gutierrez, who is a volunteer for Regalado's campaign. "I've heard the rumor he may run," Gutierrez admits. "With Joe, anything is possible."

Carollo, who could not be reached for comment, lost re-election in 2001 when he failed to make the runoff between Diaz and Maurice Ferre, another ex-city mayor.

A polarizing figure who left office amid a storm of controversy, Carollo is a bare-knuckled campaigner whose base was primarily exile Cubans from Little Havana, at one time Miami's most important voting bloc. His brother Frank is running for Sanchez's seat.

Elected in the early '80s on an anti-Communist platform, Carollo once called one of his police chiefs a "two-bit punk," compared former Commissioner Miller Dawkins to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and denounced Ferre at a press conference meant to endorse him.

Toward the end of his tenure, Carollo alienated non-Hispanic voters when he fired City Manager Donald Warshaw in the aftermath of the federal government's seizure of Cuban rafter boy Elián González from his Miami relatives. Carollo was also caught up in an embarrassing episode with his ex-wife when he was arrested on a domestic violence charge. She accused him of hurling a cardboard tea canister at her.

Nevertheless, Moreno and others believe Carollo remains popular enough to force Regalado into a runoff with himself or Sanchez as the challenger. "I see Carollo as a stalking horse that would help Sanchez," Moreno opines.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.