‘He wants to act like a Tony Soprano’: Florida city hall meeting nearly comes to blows

A Miami City meeting ended abruptly with two officials ready to start swinging after hurling “gangster” allegations back and forth.

“He wants to act like a Tony Soprano.”

(Video: NBC6)

A vote to extend a city attorney’s contract amidst allegations of real estate fraud prompted two commissioners to be at each other’s throats Thursday, first verbally and then nearly physically. While Commissioner Miguel Gabela repeatedly shouted “You are liar!” at the vice chair Commissioner Joe Carollo, it wasn’t until he fired with, “You’re a small, little man!” that tensions truly flared.

Rising from his seat, Gabela could be seen storming across the room passing behind the chairwoman, Commissioner Christine King.

As he drew near, Carollo could be seen standing to confront his peer just before Gabela was escorted away, prompting the former to assert as he returned to his seat, “You can’t have decorum with a guy that thinks he’s a gangster.”

“You’re the only gangster in here!” Gabela fired back.

Outside the meeting, Carollo spoke to the press and said of his colleague, “He wants to act like a Tony Soprano. He blew his cork and came at me. Look, I’m a senior citizen. I’m not gonna let a young man come and hit me while I’m sitting in a chair. Of course I’m gonna stand up.”

In his own remarks, Gabela argued, “Sometimes you have to stand up to bullies. It was never my intention to do anything. I apologize if that’s the way it seemed, you know, but the man starts calling me a gangster. I am not a gangster. I am a law-abiding citizen and I’m a duly elected commissioner like himself, and I think he needs to respect that, so people can respect him.”

Moments earlier, the five-member council had voted 3-2 to extend City Attorney Victoria Méndez’s contract for five months, allowing the city ample time to find a replacement as she and her husband faced a lawsuit of real estate fraud allegations, reported NBC 6.

That was only one part of the meeting that was fraught with tension as Carollo himself had recently been found liable in a federal civil lawsuit and ordered to hand over more than $63 million in damages to Little Havana businessmen Martin Pinilla and Bill Fuller.

The pair had accused the commissioner of weaponizing the police department and city code enforcement while shutting down some of their businesses as part of an alleged political retaliation.

In additional remarks reported by the Miami Herald, Gabela was said to have told reporters, “I’m just saying, ‘Look man, if you want to have a fight outside, I’ll go outside with you,'” before adding that Carollo “doesn’t like losing, and he’s lost control of this commission.”

Social media users reacted to the altercation with their take on who would win in a scrap between the pair where the only certainty was that decorum had taken the worst hit.

Kevin Haggerty

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