02:46 pm
September 23, 2018

Commissioner ‘Crazy Joe’ Carollo takes on Little Havana developer

Commissioner ‘Crazy Joe’ Carollo takes on Little Havana developer
Barlington Group Managing Principal Bill Fuller at Little Havana’s Futuruma, which has space for artists and businesses

Go back in journalistic history to the year 2000 and there’s a little gem in The Economist about Joe Carollo, who is currently a city of Miami commissioner.

“When the mayor of Miami, Joe Carollo, was a budding city commissioner in the mid-1980s, he earned the nickname ‘Crazy Joe’ for calling the police chief a ‘two-bit punk’ and for making the even bigger mistake of feuding with the Cubans’ legendary political leader, Jorge Mas Canosa, the founder of the Cuban-American National Foundation,” the Economist wrote.

In 2000, Carollo was mayor of Miami and The Economist recounted how Carl Hiaasen, the author of satirical novels and a Miami Herald columnist, reanointed him “King of the Crazies.” “Deep down,” Hiaasen wrote, “we knew you were still the same paranoid fruitcake you’ve always been. We knew it wouldn’t take much to unhinge your wobbly brainpan and, sure enough, the Elian episode did the trick.”

In the aftermath of the federal raid that took Elian Gonzalez, Carollo fired city manager, Donald Warshaw and the police chief resigned because Carollo was angry that he didn’t tip him off that the feds were coming.

Well, “Crazy Joe” is back with a doozy of a feud with Bill Fuller of Barlington Group, the key person responsible for redevelopment of Little Havana, with establishments such as Ball & Chain. Fuller is also a member of the SFBW Editorial Advisory Board. Most of Carollo’s allegations have to do with code violations.

New Times broke the story about the feud and the Miami Herald has published an extensive expose. Some of Carollo’s allegations are potentially libelous, so they won’t be repeated here.

I have personal experience interviewing and writing about what Fuller is accomplishing in Little Havana. He’s transforming it from a somewhat tired area noticeable for visits by tour buses full of tourists seeking a taste of Miami, such as cigars, Cuban sandwiches and Dominos Park. Despite its name, Little Havana has gone from a one-time Jewish neighborhood before the Cuban revolution, to a haven for Cuban refugees to a more diverse Hispanic neighborhood.

Carollo appears concerned about the impact of gentrification, which is worthy of discussion. However, one shouldn’t overstate the impact of Barlington Group. Its 20 or so properties are largely concentrated along Calle Ocho while Little Havana is a sprawling, densely packed residential neighborhood. Moreover, an SFBW profile on Fuller and the area’s changes is entitled, “Character Preserved.” One could argue that Fuller, who like Carollo is Cuban-American, is bringing a modern ethnic flavor to the neighborhood and serving up traditional music while also providing opportunities for new businesses. Yes, it’s tough when existing entrepreneurs struggle to pay the rent, which seems to be one of Carollo’s concerns, but that’s one of the unfortunate downsides of having a free market economy.

His concerns shouldn’t be an excuse for bullying and an abuse of power, which is what’s portrayed in a 38-page investigative report by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, which is embedded in the Herald article.  Carollo told the Herald the report is full of lies and exaggerations.

The bottom line: Carollo is entitled to make his points about code violations, but needs to avoid doing so in a fair, non-selective fashion that doesn’t dishonor his position. Miami has a very experienced city manager named Emilio T. González, who has also been profiled by SFBW. If Carollo has complaints about city staff, he should call González.


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