Judge overturns

MIAMI (AP) — An appeals court restored Joe Carollo as the mayor of Miami on Wednesday, throwing out 5,000 absentee ballots cast in the election that ousted him because of widespread fraud.
“This would never have happened in a Third World banana republic,” a jubilant Carollo said, referring to a critical description of Miami politics on a recent segment of the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes.”
Last week, a judge threw out the election and ordered a new contest because of widespread absentee ballot fraud in Xavier Suarez’s victory.
Carollo appealed, saying he should be declared the winner outright because absentee ballot fraud on Nov. 4 left him 155 votes short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Suarez won the absentee vote by a 2- 1 margin, then went on to easily win the runoff nine days later.
Wednesday, the 3rd District Court of Appeals agreed with Carollo and pronounced him the winner without a special election, based on votes cast at polling places. He can serve the remainder of the four-year term, the court said.
“We refuse to disenfranchise the more than 40,000 voters who on Nov. 4, 1997, exercised their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote in the polling places of Miami,” the court said.
“Unlike the right to vote, which is assured every citizen by the United States Constitution, the ability to vote by absentee ballot is a privilege,” the court said.
Marcos Gonzales, a lawyer for Suarez, said the court’s decision would be extremely unpopular with voters.
“You got somebody in office who’s not the popular choice of the people,” Gonzales said.
Circuit Judge Thomas S. Wilson Jr.’s decision last week ordering a new election threw the city of 375,000 into turmoil, and left both Carollo and Suarez claiming the right to serve as interim mayor.
Wright said while there was no evidence Suarez or his family knew of or participated in the fraud, he cited “a pattern of fraudulent, intentional and criminal conduct” in the general election.
Four people were charged with vote fraud and one Suarez volunteer was charged with trying to buy fake absentee ballots that used the names of dead people. Authorities said undercover investigators also approached Carollo campaign workers, but they refused the offers of fake ballots.
Suarez, who was Miami’s mayor from 1985 to 1993, made waves in his recent four months in office, declaring the city’s financial emergency a fantasy, firing city staff and showing a sometimes erratic style that garnered him the nickname “Mayor Loco.”
Carollo promised to be a calming influence.
“I will not be doing the sorts of things that we have seen the last few months,” Carollo said. “I want to do the best that I can do for the city of Miami. People had been running amok. I want to bring stability back.”
The three appeals judges hinted at their decision during an hour-long hearing earlier Wednesday.
“What message do we send if we say … you can cheat, you can defraud and the worst that will happen is that you get another crack at bat?” asked Judge Rodolfo Sorondo.
He cautioned Suarez’s attorneys that a candidate shares responsibility for the actions of his campaign volunteers.
“I will concede that you cannot control everyone,” Sorondo said. “But if you let slip the dogs of war, you better keep a leash on them.”