An upstart, 32-year-old attorney will take on former Miami mayor Joe Carollo in a David-vs-Goliath fight for one of the city’s five powerful commission seats after a Friday recount upheld the tight results of the general election.
Carollo emerged from Tuesday’s vote as the front-runner in the race for District 3, winning more than 30 percent of the vote. But Miami law requires a runoff election if no candidate wins a majority, and the margin between the second- and third-place finishers was so narrow that an automatic recount was triggered.
But recounts rarely overturn results. And Alfonso “Alfie” Leon’s 17-vote lead over Zoraida Barreiro held firm, setting up a 10-day battle toward an election encore between one of Miami’s most colorful politicians ever and a candidate just getting started.
“What I’ll tell anyone is 70 percent of the people in this district did not want Joe Carollo,” said Leon. “They’ve known me for about 11 months and they’ve known him for 30 years. And they know what they’re getting. I think they want someone young, fresh, who wants to take care of problems.”
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Leon, who before running worked for nearly a year as a policy aide for outgoing District 3 commissioner Frank Carollo, beat the son of Miami’s outgoing mayor and Barreiro, the wife of County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, to make the runoff. Now, he heads into the Nov. 21 runoff behind not only in votes, but in time: Carollo had two-and-a-half days to campaign and raise money as the only candidate in the race.
The final result is Alfonso ‘Alfie’ Leon will be in a runoff with Joe Carollo.
Miami canvassing board chairwoman Shelley Kravitz
But Leon wasn’t inactive amid the uncertainty. His campaign held a fundraiser hosted by Coral Gables Commissioner Vince Lago at the Biltmore Friday morning, and he’s got plenty of friends — and Carollo enemies — willing to help him either publicly or privately.
Carollo, an aggressive campaigner who has money left over from the general election, didn’t wait for the results of Friday’s recount either to get his runoff campaign going. And he went on the offensive before the process began, calling on Leon to debate him (Leon said “we will”) and criticizing a decision to raise money outside the city in a posh hotel instead of inside the blue-collar district surrounding Little Havana.
“For a guy that tries to pretend he’s so down to earth, he certainly has an elitist sniff to him,” said Carollo, 62. “He’s liking that Coral Gables crowd, the Biltmore lifestyle a little too much for a guy who’s supposedly with the people.”
Lago fired back:
“The idea that he would say we can’t support him because we had an event at the Biltmore? I think it’s embarrassing.”
Following the counting of provisional ballots, Leon went into Friday’s recount just 17 votes ahead of Barreiro. State law requires an automatic machine recount in instances where less than half a percentage point separates candidates.
After 6,012 ballots were run through optical scanners, Barreiro gained a few votes, forcing a recount of under- and over-vote ballots, where the machines determined that too many or too few selections were made by a voter. But Leon regained his 17-vote advantage during the manual recount, leading Miami’s canvassing board to declare the runoff between Leon and Carollo.
The lone remaining wild card is whether Barreiro will file a legal challenge of the election. Her attorney, Robert Fernandez, said afterward that nothing is planned at the moment. But the campaign is still asking questions to ensure that the elections supervisor gave all 99 voters in the district whose mail-in ballots were rejected a legally required opportunity to fix the problem.
Elections spokeswoman Suzy Trutie said Fernandez has asked for copies of the letters sent to all the voters telling them of their ability to cure problems with missing and problematic signatures. She said the department properly handled the process.
“We haven’t ruled anything out,” Fernandez said. “We want to keep looking at that to make sure the correct process was followed.”