Joe Carollo, the controversial former mayor of Miami, completed a stunning political resurrection Tuesday, fighting his way back into City Hall at the age of 62 after 16 years out of elected office.
Carollo, whose last campaign in 2001 left him as a rare Miami incumbent to lose a reelection bid, blasted through a field of seven during the Nov. 7 general election and knocked off attorney Alfie Leon in Tuesday’s runoff to win the city’s District 3 commission seat.
Unofficial results, with all precincts counted, showed him taking 52.75 percent of the vote to Leon’s 47.25. Carollo maintained a comfortable lead throughout the night, as mail-in and early ballots gave him an insurmountable boost among the 4,565 ballots cast in the runoff.
Carollo, whose controversial time in elected office dates back to 1979, can be sworn into office as early as Dec. 2. He’ll take over for his younger brother, Frank Carollo, who’s leaving due to term limits.
“There were times during this election when I saw so much defamation and so many lies thrown at me, so much hate, that I was wondering, ‘Why did I get myself back into this? Back into a cesspool of corruption like we have here in Miami?’ ” Carollo said at his victory party at El Pub on Calle Ocho. “I have an obligation to the residents of District 3 and Miami who believe in me.”
Carollo and his wife, Marjorie, entered El Pub to cheers and the sound of sirens. He hugged his way through a boisterous crowd and then made his way to a lectern, where he ripped through a blistering half-hour speech in Spanish that savaged the enemies who funded his opponents and attacked his character — and sanity — and promised to fight for the public.
Carollo also claimed that in the days before the election, he and his wife received calls that consisted of laughter and heavy breathing into the phone.
On Monday, Leon sued Carollo and the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections, alleging that Carollo had violated residency requirements by failing to move into his apartment in District 3 more than a year before he qualified to run for office. The complaint, filed in Miami-Dade civil court, asked for an injunction to stop Carollo from running for city commissioner.
“This is another joke from the Leon campaign. There are no concerns. My attorneys will take care of it,” said Carollo, who learned about the complaint from a Miami Herald reporter.
Carollo’s victory returns one of Miami’s most controversial and colorful characters to power. The former mayor, who was first elected to the City Commission in 1979 at the age of 24, frequently sparred with other elected officials and city bureaucrats during his various stints at City Hall in the ’80s and ’90s. He was notoriously mercurial and prone to raising the specter of leftist politics and communist Cuba — something his critics worry will return with him.
His last term in office as mayor included the saga during which the federal government raided a Little Havana home and removed Elián González back to Cuba. After he fired city manager Don Warshaw, people began to compare Miami to a banana republic. People literally hurled bananas at City Hall.
But for all of Carollo’s detractors, his message resonated with voters in the heavily Hispanic district encompassing Shenandoah, The Roads, and the tourist haven of Little Havana. While his opponents attacked his rocky tenure as Doral city manager, his last-minute move into the district from Coconut Grove and old domestic issues during his last term in office in Miami, Carollo promised to clean up crime, pull down red light cameras and construct 10,000 units of affordable housing.
“Even if I only do housing, that is going to make the lives of so many people better,” he said.
Carollo, though, was equally vicious in his campaign. He claimed Leon had committed voter fraud by keeping his voter’s registration at his father’s Kendall house while living in a condo on the Miami River. He also sought to tie Leon to crime by distributing a picture Leon posted to Facebook several years ago with rapper Juvenile, who was once arrested in a Coconut Grove brawl.
Carollo went as far as to suggest — without any evidence — that a political committee attacking him was working with a convicted child molester. One attack that sought to link general election opponent Tomas N. “Tommy” Regalado and his father, the former mayor, to leftist regimes drew rebuke from the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance.
No matter. As opponents complained, the former mayor told voters that he would be the injection of defiance needed to keep their city government from becoming a “pinata” for “influence peddlers.” And this much seems certain: Miami’s new mayor and City Commission won’t make many decisions over the next four years without hearing from Carollo.
“I’m willing to work with anyone, even those who came out to try and destroy me,” he said. “What I’m not willing to do is be a hypocrite and pretend people didn’t do anything.”
But not everyone will have Carollo’s ear. In the middle of his victory speech, a firefighter union member tried to hand the newly elected commissioner a ringing cellphone with his defeated opponent on the line. Carollo declined to take the call. Leon could wait.
Miami City Commission District 3
Unofficial final results
Joe Carollo: 2,408
Alfonso “Alfie” Leon: 2,157