In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Doral mayor’s sudden souring on Joe Carollo raises eyebrows

Allow me to quote me.

“The question looming over Doral is how long it will be before those same regrets come spilling from the lips of Mayor Luigi Boria.”

The question was posed in a Jan. 3 column based on a conversation with Merrett Stierheim, the just-departed Doral interim city manager, who had been brought in to repair a roiling mess down at City Hall and to vet qualified candidates for the permanent manager job.

Instead, Mayor Boria ignored Stierheim and pressed the city council to hire his friend and advisor, Joe Carollo, the famously tempestuous former Miami mayor, as city manager. Stierheim was stunned. Even more so when Carollo reacted to Stierheim’s reservations with a personal attack.

“I knew he was paranoid. But I didn’t think he’d turn on me,” Stierheim had told me. Which made me wonder how long before Boria would be uttering his own regrets.

The answer was 273 days.

“I must admit that I was wrong in selecting Carollo,” Boria told my colleagues Melissa Sanchez and Enrique Flor last week. “Carollo has erratic behaviors that do not belong in a normal person, an administration professional. I ask all Doral residents and citizens to forgive me for having erroneously chosen this person.”

Doral citizens, however, might be wondering about the mayor’s sudden and rather convenient reappraisal of his handpicked city manager. It’s not as if Carollo, over that 272-day span, had suddenly undergone a personality transformation. Everyone in South Florida, including Boria, has long known that Joe was given to “erratic behaviors.” His critics did not dub him “Crazy Joe” for nothing.

There just may have been another troubling reason why Luigi fell out with Joe. The mayor had been pushing a zoning change to accommodate a proposal for a 17-acre tract in Doral, part of a convoluted deal involving his children, $5 million of the mayor’s money, his former business client and a plan to build a gated community with 66 luxury homes.

And Joe wasn’t helping.

Sanchez and Flor, doing some nifty double-duty reporting for the Herald and El Nuevo Herald, discovered in July that Boria’s adult children, with the help of a $5 million gift from their father, had purchased the tract last year along with the mayor’s former business client, Juan Carlos Tovar.

After the mayor was harried by questions about a potential conflict of interest in the project, the children sold their half of the development project to Tovar, but not, as Sanchez and Flor discovered, before they loaned him $3.6 million.

The City Council finally approved the zoning changes Sept. 25, but Carollo made it pretty clear that he was put off by the deal. At one point, with his usual Carollo tact, he told Tovar’s lobbyists to conduct themselves in the “American way.”

After the meeting, Tovar complained that Carollo had disparaged his Venezuelan heritage. Tavor said Joe was being “pretty racist.” He also charged that the city manager had forcibly grabbed his arm.

Joe denied any particular antipathy toward Venezuelans. He didn’t quite deny another Tovar charge, that Carollo had accused him of harboring ties to the lefty regime of the late Hugo Chavez. Now that would have been vintage Joe, who in his younger days in Miami politics regularly charged that his political enemies were spies and patsies for Fidel Castro.

But Joe claimed that the feud with Boria was really about his discomfort with this questionable land deal.

Boria wants to jettison Carollo at the council meeting on Wednesday evening, though it is not at all a given that a council majority is quite ready take the mayor’s side.

Sure, the mayor’s right about Joe’s erratic behavior.

But Joe might be right, too, that he’s onto something hinky in Doral.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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