Miami-Dade County

In spat over cat, former Miami-Dade mayor charged with battery

Former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez
Former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez El Nuevo Herald File/2011

Former Miami-Dade mayor and police director Carlos Alvarez — a strict disciplinarian who out of office turned to bodybuilding — was arrested on a domestic battery charge that stemmed over a fight about a cat, police said.

The 63-year-old Coral Gables resident, recalled from office five years ago in a stunning rebuke by his constituents, turned himself in to police Wednesday morning. He was charged with one count of domestic battery and transported to the Turner Guilford Knight correctional facility.

Miami-Dade Corrections spokeswoman Janelle Hall said Alvarez will remain in jail over night Wednesday and see a judge in domestic violence court Thursday morning. His bond was set at $1,500.

Coral Gables police, who made the arrest, wouldn’t comment outside of Alvarez’s arrest report. The report, a brief paragraph with Alvarez’s phone number and address blacked out — they’re exempt under state statute because he’s a former police officer — said the incident happened Saturday afternoon.

Police said the former mayor fought with his girlfriend Saturday over the cat. He grabbed the woman and pinned her to the wall. Then he swore and spat on her.

Where the argument took place was also blacked out. The report didn’t name the woman, saying only she and Alvarez had an ongoing relationship for the past 14 years. The report says the woman’s teenage daughter told police that Alvarez had been violent with her mother since 2013.

“The verbal argument escalated,” the arrest report reads. “The defendant grabbed the victim by both hands and pinned her against the wall in the building’s parking garage. The defendant began spitting at the victim while he was yelling profanities at her.”

Alvarez’s defense lawyer, Douglas Hartman, said the altercation took place a week ago at the former mayor’s home. Hartman took issue with the way the altercation was portrayed.

“He wasn’t seeking her out,” Hartman said. “She came to his residence. He denies it in every way, shape or form. He’s going to fight it.”

John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade police union who served under Alvarez when he was police director, said he hasn’t been in touch with him for several months.

“We had an absolutely professional, open relationship,” said Rivera, a friend and colleague who often found himself on opposite sides of the table from the former mayor. “He was a pleasure to work with.”

Alvarez, shy of the media spotlight despite his prominent past posts, essentially went underground after the embarrassing recall in 2011. That year, 88 percent of the voters chose to remove Alvarez after he rewarded several aides with hefty raises during the height of the recession. His pension pays him more than $180,000 a year.

Over the years, Alvarez has been seen at the Equinox gym in Coral Gables’ Village of Merrick Park, and occasionally at a favorite breakfast spot. He joined other county leaders who helped push to build the Miami Marlins controversial ballpark at the team’s inaugural game in 2012.

But that’s about it in terms of public sightings.

“After he was recalled, he kind of disappeared. He’s rarely been seen or heard from again,” said Fred Menachem, who helped the Alvarez campaign pass a strong-mayor initiative. “I would absolutely say the man was a recluse.”

Sort of.

The former mayor made headlines again in 2013, for an entirely different reason. Gone were the browns he wore as police director and the tailored suits he sported as mayor. Instead, he wore a Speedo and flashed bulging glutes and abs that looked like they were made of steel.

The former mayor had secured first place in the National Physique Committee’s South Florida Over 60 Masters bodybuilding competition at the James L. Knight Center. He left his former life so far in the past that a judge at the event said he had no clue Alvarez was the county’s former mayor and police director.

Alvarez’s rise to power followed a straight line — and then, took an unexpected twist.

Born in Cuba, he moved to Miami when he was 6. He joined the Miami-Dade police department in 1976 and shot through the ranks. He divorced twice and had a son, who was convicted of rape and sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1995. By 1997, Alvarez was appointed to run the largest police force in the southeastern United States.

Then, the police director with a military sense of chain-of-command who didn’t often linger in gray zones, was talked into running for county mayor.

The decision to run for an office that requires schmoozing, negotiating and jostling with reporters proved difficult for Alvarez. First, he pushed through the strong-mayor initiative that gave the position unprecedented power. Then the public took exception to the way he wielded it.

In 2009, after he was re-elected, Alvarez followed through on a campaign promise and backed a controversial plan to build the Marlins a ballpark in Little Havana that used hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone for other public needs. That same year he gave several close aides large raises. By 2010, deep in the recession, he was pushing for a 12 percent property-tax raise.

The public lashed out — as did local billionaire Norman Braman, who spent more than $1 million fighting to recall Alvarez. It worked. Almost 90 percent of those who voted chose to remove Alvarez from office, in what at the time was considered the largest recall of a mayor in U.S. history.

Now, the man who at one time controlled the two most powerful offices in Miami-Dade has a fight on his hands to remain out of jail.

“He needs to have his day in court,” said Rivera, his former colleague. “It sounds very uncharacteristic.”

Miami Herald staff writers Patricia Mazzei, David Ovalle, Brenda Medina and Enrique Flor contributed to this report.