“As a boss, as the mayor, he was a good boss. As long as he trusted you, he let you do your work,’’ Gimenez said. “I’ve got nothing bad to say about Joe Carollo. He actually was instrumental in bringing back Miami."
Gimenez has also played an indirect role in Carollo’s political reemergence. Last year, a political committee supporting Gimenez’s reelection paid Carollo’s consulting firm $90,000 for advice on what the county mayor describes as “basic strategy,’’ although that role was not widely publicized.
Carollo had become active in politics again in 2009, albeit behind the scenes, when he helped his younger brother, Frank Carollo, win election to the Miami City Commission.
Subsequently, Joe Carollo began turning up regularly on Spanish-language radio and TV to attack newly elected Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, a veteran city commissioner and longtime political nemesis. While mayor, Carollo had alleged that Regalado abused a city gas card.
After Regalado’s election, Carollo began airing allegations that the new mayor had received campaign support from operators of “illegal’’ gambling establishments and foreign contributors. Regalado was eventually fined $5,000 by the county ethics commission because of shoddy campaign bookkeeping.
Carollo also vocally backed Miami police chief and Regalado foe Miguel Exposito in his drawn-out fight with the mayor over the legality of gambling “ maquinitas” — small-bore video slots. Carollo and Exposito claimed Regalado was protecting the maquinita industry.
When State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle did not pursue criminal charges over the campaign contributions or the maquinitas, Carollo set his sights on her. He advised unsuccessful challenger Rod Vereen, in whose attack-dog campaign tactics some political observers saw Carollo’s hand.
Carollo, who was born in Cuba, arrived in the United States, initially without his parents, as a 6-year-old Pedro Pan child, and grew up in Florida and the Chicago area. As a politically conservative young man, he worked for the presidential campaign of George Wallace, who made his bones as a segregationist governor of Alabama.
He was also one of the youngest recruits to join the county police force and, in 1979, at age 24, the youngest candidate elected to the Miami commission. He rapidly distinguished himself by clashing often, and with evident relish, with administrators, with then-mayor Maurice Ferre, and a police chief whom he publicly called “a two-bit punk.’’
In 1983, after what he thought was a political truce, Ferre called a news conference at which he believed Carollo was going to endorse him for reelection. Instead, in a double-cross many still recall today, Carollo walked up to the microphone and bashed the clearly mortified Ferre.
Carollo didn’t stop there. He compared a black city manager to Idi Amin and accused two stalwart conservatives, former United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick and hard-line exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa, of ties to Communist regimes, in a successful attempt to kill a development scheme they backed for Watson Island.
The clash did result in one of Carollo’s signature achievements as commissioner: An amendment that requires voter approval of commercial contracts on waterfront city land if there’s only one bidder.