Most people in their sixties are thinking of slowing down and taking life easy. Not Joe Carollo. He’s been a fixture in local politics since 1978, when he first won a seat on the Miami City Commission as the city’s youngest-ever commissioner at 24. Early on he was given the nickname “Crazy Joe”.
He regained a seat on the City of Miami Commission in 2017 and has not just been making waves, but sending tsunamis to City Hall at Dinner Key. Love him or hate (and there is a broad constituency in both camps), you’d be mistaken to try to ignore him.
Carollo became a household name in 1983. After a lengthy introduction by incumbent Mayor Maurice Ferre, Carollo was expected to give an endorsement to Ferre’s reelection. After all, Ferre helped Carollo win his seat five years earlier. Instead, Carollo attacked Ferre for running a racist, hateful campaign and threw his support to challenger Xavier Suarez. Ferre won, but the Carollo double-cross made history.
In 1986, Carollo accused then-Mayor Xavier Suarez of gouging taxpayers and enriching his friends with a $93 million plan to turn Watson Island into “the boating capital of the world.” Jorge Mas Canosa, one of the investors, was so outraged, that he challenged Carollo to a knife fight. Carollo offered to fight with water pistols.
When Carollo next ran for reelection, Suarez led a successful effort to defeat him, sending Carollo into political limbo for eight years. Then his political fortunes changed. Carollo managed to regain his commission seat, defeating Victor DeYurre, the man who had beaten Carollo at Suarez’s urging.
That was followed by a successful Voting Rights Act lawsuit that eliminated the office of County Mayor in the spring of 1993. Suddenly, a politician without an office, Steve Clark returned to Miami City Hall as Mayor in November 1993. Clark’s death from stomach cancer in June 1996 opened the office up for a special election in July of that year. Carollo won the special election to fill the mayoral term of Mayor Clark, but his tenure would be short.
Xavier Suarez was declared the winner of a 1997 election, defeating Carollo’s reelection bid. However, allegations that Commissioner Humberto Herndandez was involved in absentee ballot fraud caused a judge to toss out all of the absentee ballots. With those votes eliminated, Carollo was declared the winner and was installed back into office.
After leaving the Mayor’s office, Carollo eventually landed in Doral, serving as City Manager for 15 months, being fired in 2014 by the Doral City Council in retaliation for making allegations of corruption and campaign finance violations by former mayor Luigi Boria and two council members, Sandra Ruiz and Christine Fraga. Carollo sued and eventually settled on the condition that he be allowed to return to office and thereafter immediately resign.
Last year, Carollo won a tumultuous bid to succeed his brother, Frank Carollo, for the City Commission District 3 seat. Since then, he’s been embroiled in a battle with the next generation of Suarez politicians: Francis Suarez. Francis was an infant when Carollo was first elected to the City of Miami Commission.
Carollo’s latest challenge is a lawsuit filed against Francis Suarez and the City of Miami to block the Strong Mayor Charter amendment on the November 6th ballot. Francis is not only Miami Mayor like his father was once was, he wants to do the old man one better by actually running the City on a day to day basis.
Here’s one bit of advice that Xavier Suarez should have given his son when he was sworn in as Mayor: Never underestimate Joe Carollo in a fight, whether the weapons are knives, water pistols, or just ballots.