Ethnic politics in Miami

Mayor Carollo: Grandstanding flouted law and order and risked safety of Elian Gonzalez.

May 02, 2000

POLICE Chief William O'Brien of Miami upheld his duty and the law, and lost his job for it.

By assigning a high-ranking police liaison to the federal immigration task force that took custody of Elian Gonzalez amid hostile surroundings, and not telling his political masters in advance, Chief O'Brien assured a quick operation with no injury.

Any doubt that Miami Mayor Joe Carollo would have obstructed the raid given the opportunity was resolved when the mayor went for the chief's head for not having tipped him.

Had the mayor had his way, there might well have been violence, especially to Elian, from zealots and goons blocking the house. It is not often that an elected executive nails his colors to the mast of anarchism, but Mayor Carollo has just done that.

Miami has a weak-mayor system, and now we know why. The mayor may hire and fire the city manager, who runs the city and appoints everyone else.

Mayor Carollo made a show of demanding that City Manager Donald Warshaw fire Chief O'Brien. When he refused, Mayor Carollo fired Mr. Warshaw, claiming other reasons. Chief O'Brien resigned. This plunged Miami into crisis over whether a lame-duck city manager may name a new police chief.

The politics of it is excruciating. Mayor Carollo is a divisive figure with fairly negative ratings among Cuban-Americans, who comprise 55 percent of Miami's electorate. He played to this constituency, losing the respect of the African-American fifth of the electorate and of English-speaking whites, the third-ranking group. He polarized the city along ethnic lines for personal advantage.

What stands out is that Chief O'Brien lost his job for doing it, with Mr. Warshaw a collateral casualty.

Mayor Carollo brought political venality at the sacrifice of law and order to a new low.

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