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."
The fiery back-and-forth began over a contentious deal between the city and AFSCME, the union representing city employees, to remove a few workers from the union rolls. One of those employees who faced removal from the union was Jose Jair Espinoza, a group benefits manager in the Risk Management Department.
Espinoza spoke at the meeting last night and urged the commission to rethink the plan. When he finished speaking, Carollo began quizzing him: about his full name, about whether he'd lived in Ohio, and about whether he recalled being arrested there or in Broward County.
"What does that have to do with what I'm talking about now?" Espinoza asked. "Wow. Oh, wow."
"Because if any employee lies in an employment application, that is something that's very pertinent," Carollo replied.
It's still unclear exactly what Carollo was accusing Espinoza of lying about. Arrest records show he was charged with four felonies in Broward in 2011 for cocaine and marijuana possession and concealed weapons charges, but those cases were all dismissed. Crespo later reported that Espinoza might have had a DUI conviction in Ohio that wasn't noted on his city employment application.
But to Crespo, Espinoza's old record wasn't the real issue — it was that Carollo seemed to be shaming the city employee for arguing against a proposal the commissioner liked. After watching the exchange on a web stream, Crespo hopped into his car and headed to city hall.
The blogger rallied the crowd in the chambers to rousing applause as he railed against the commissioner, whom Crespo had actually supported in his return to city hall after serving as mayor in the late '90s and early '00s.
"It's not what you did to that individual; it's the message you sent to any citizen or anyone who comes to this body," Crespo said. "If they say something you don't like, you're going to reach into your pocket if you know they're coming and use information to attack them personally, unrelated to the issue they came here to speak about. That's unconscionable. You should never be allowed to do that. I'm ashamed of you, and I'm ashamed of all of you that did not speak up."
Carollo, though, launched an equally impassioned defense. Without specifying what he believed Espinoza had done wrong, he said, "As long as I'm here, any employee that lies in an application that perjures himself... I'm not going to sit idly and pretend I didn't see it."
There's one unmentioned bit of irony in the whole exchange: Carollo himself was arrested in 2001 after his wife accused him of hitting her so hard he left a golf-ball-size welt on her head. Carollo later admitted to throwing a container toward his wife, but he said he was aiming for the wall, not her head. Prosecutors later dropped the charges in exchange for his attending counseling.