The last time Miami commissioners gathered to govern the city, Frank Carollo was in rare form.
He cast the lone vote against a potentially pricey deal to sell Miami’s riverfront headquarters, tried to one-up a colleague on lower neighborhood speed limits and made a surprise push to fire the city manager.
It was quintessential Carollo, who heading into his eighth and final year on the Miami City Commission has crafted a reputation as a predictably unpredictable maverick, and a thorn in the side of Mayor Tomás Regalado’s administration.
But some eyes rolled in the commission chambers as the cagey accountant and former cop went about his business last week. After all, this is a politician some believe is running a covert campaign to win Miami’s 2017 mayoral election; someone who was referred to by one of his fellow commissioners this summer as “Candidate Carollo.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“He’s young. He’s term-limited. It makes sense,” said lame-duck Mayor Regalado. “I can’t see how he wouldn’t run.”
We have definitely thought about it but we haven’t made a decision yet. I want to make sure I have the time to discuss it with my wife
Less than a year out from the election to name Regalado’s replacement, the 46-year-old Carollo says, in fact, he hasn’t decided anything yet. He is at the very least quietly doing the math on his chances should he join the race and take on Commissioner Francis Suarez — creating a second-generation Carollo-Suarez political battle — but doesn’t appear to be raising campaign funds or soliciting union endorsements.
“Yes, there is some interest,” Carollo said Friday following a meeting at Bayfront Park to prepare for an encore of rapper Pitbull’s live New Year’s Eve broadcast, an event he helped broker. “We have definitely thought about it but we haven’t made a decision yet. I want to make sure I have the time to discuss it with my wife.”
Carollo’s secretive nature has engendered skepticism that he’s merely being coy. After eight years in the limelight, the mayor’s post is, in Carollo’s own words, a “natural progression.” And lately he’s been seen more often at ceremonial events outside his district, like a park ribbon-cutting in Coconut Grove, and taken on bigger-picture issues, such as youth gun violence.
He has also held onto millions of dollars given to each commissioner over the last two years in order to pay for brick-and-mortar projects, meaning he’ll likely roll out a series of initiatives next year, during peak political season.
I can’t see how he wouldn’t run
Mayor Tomás Regalado
Sources familiar with Carollo’s thinking are mixed on whether he’s truly undecided or just waiting for the right time to announce. But at times he behaves like someone who is not running. For instance, last month, when Fidel Castro’s death set off a week of events among Cuban exiles in Miami, he was out of town for the holidays with his wife and 5-year-old daughter — something that would have played poorly were he a declared candidate.
“I do really value the quality time with my family and my little girl, and a lot of that would be sacrificed,” Carollo says, if he ran for mayor.
Carollo has only so much time to make up his mind. Suarez, the only formidable candidate to declare so far, has already raised more than $1 million in campaign funds. And while Carollo doesn’t believe he has to match Suarez dollar for dollar to win, running a citywide campaign takes time and effort and the general consensus is that Carollo would enter the election as an underdog, albeit a formidable one.
Sean Foreman, a political science professor at Barry University, agrees with that perspective. Still, he said there may be some wishful thinking at play among those who believe the commissioner is already running, perhaps pining for the “Crazy Joe and Mayor Loco days,” a reference to when Frank’s brother Joe and Francis’ father Xavier were bitter rivals and competed for the mayor’s office in the late 1990s.
“That would bring some attention to a race that otherwise could be boring,” said Foreman.
Regardless of what happens with the mayor’s race, it’s likely to be a lively election year in Miami.
Carollo must leave his commission seat in November, meaning it will be up for grabs. Several candidates have already filed to run for the post, and this week, Zoraida Barreiro, the wife of county commissioner Bruno Barreiro, and Tommy Regalado, the mayor’s son, said they’re mulling a run for the seat.
Several candidates have filed to run for the commission seat that Suarez must resign in order to run for mayor (Raquel Regalado, the mayor’s daughter, is pushing back on expectations that she’ll join the field). And Chairman Keon Hardemon is up for re-election, although it appears one intriguing rumor — that former Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones will run against him — is bunk.
“Not interested,” she told the Miami Herald.