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Miami's proud (boy) tradition is preserved: Kevin Cabrera is the new Joe Carollo

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C.M. Guerrero
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Miami Herald (left); Kevin Cabrera campaign
Book 'em, Kevin! Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo (left) and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Kevin Cabrera

COMMENTARY: If you feared there's no successor to Joe Carollo as the blowtorch-bearer of Miami's banana-republic politics, look no further than Kevin Cabrera.

Good news, fellow Miami-Dade denizens! We finally have a worthy successor to Joe Carollo! His name is Kevin Cabrera — and he’s already filling “Crazy Joe’s” shameless shoes.

That’s a big relief for those of us who’ve been lying awake at night wondering who was going to carry on Miami’s proudest civic traditions.

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I’m talking about the legacy of banana republic politics that Carollo, the Miami city commissioner and former Miami mayor, has been building ever since he was elected the youngest commissioner in Magic City history at age 24.

I’m talking about the heritage of authoritarian bullying and petty thuggery that Carollo, more than any politico here, has made a nationally recognized hallmark of the Miami brand. The most recent showcase: court transcripts that reveal him using city resources in his efforts to shut down Little Havana businesses he has personal grudges against.

READ MORE: Miami democracy keeps setting an embarrassing example for...Cuban democracy

And I’m also talking about the time-honored Miami practice of demonizing anyone who disagrees with the conservative Cuban exile dogma that Cuban exile Carollo did so much to dictate. Who can forget then-Mayor Carollo in 2000 firing a city manager who refused his order to stop federal agents from lawfully returning 6-year-old Elián González to his father in communist Cuba?

"Crazy Joe" is 67 and can’t embarrass South Florida with antics like that forever, you know. So to whom can he pass that blowhard’s blowtorch?

Enter Kevin Marino Cabrera: Miami-Dade County’s new District 6 Commissioner, age 32.

The Cuban-American Cabrera pulled Exile Excalibur from the stone this week with his ludicrous but politically savvy condemnation of a book that runs afoul of Miami dogma.

Cabrera, himself a Cuban-American, pulled Exile Excalibur from the stone this week with his ludicrous but politically savvy condemnation of a book event to be held next week in Coral Gables.

The book in question is Cuban Privilege by Boston University sociologist Susan Eckstein. It critiques the special U.S. immigration benefits Cubans have received these past 60 years, and which the Cuban community parlayed into one of America’s most impressive political and economic success stories.

Eckstein told me Cuban Privilege pays compliments to Cuban-Americans in that regard. Ah, but welcome to Joe Carollo’s — and now Kevin Cabrera’s — Miami, Professor Eckstein. Exile orthodoxy forbids any suggestion that Cubans got to cut the immigration queue — or that they didn’t divinely deserve to cut it far more than groups like Haitians, whose cause for fleeing their countries could never, ever compare with the Biblical plight of the Cuban diaspora. Therefore, Eckstein’s book is “hate-filled” and “anti-Cuban,” Cabrera insisted — without actually reading it.

Never mind that the immigration fast-track Cubans enjoy has long been universally acknowledged — and deeply documented in WLRN’s new podcast “Detention by Design.”

Sniffing out heresy

Cabrera nonetheless threw the gauntlet down at Eckstein’s Dec. 9 presentation of Cuban Privilege, sponsored by Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute.

Now the spot where it will take place — Books & Books, which sits in Cabrera’s district — can probably brace for angry Cuban exile demonstrations that evening. And it may as well get used to Cabrera sniffing out more “hate-filled anti-Cuban” book gatherings, the way Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution rake every corner of the island for anti-communist heresy.

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Boston University
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Boston University sociologist Susan Eckstein and her new book, Cuban Privilege

What’s doubly reassuring to the keepers of the Carollo Candle is that Cabrera brings his own boorish bona fides to the table.

In his campaign to win the District 6 seat last month, for example, he claimed, falsely, that his opponent was a criminal who took campaign donations from human-trafficking organizations. But Cabrera is even better known for being caught on video in 2018 joining the right-wing hate cult Proud Boys in a menacing protest against then Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi during her visit to Miami.

Though he’s an avowed supporter of former President Donald Trump, who’s had a long bromance with the Proud Boys, Cabrera denies ever belonging to the group and has since criticized them. But he knows that even if he were a member, it wouldn’t matter to many if not most of the District 6 voters who backed him — just as Carollo’s toxic theatrics have rarely if ever cost him a vote here.

Cabrera’s bogus and baldly opportunistic attack on Cuban Privilege will only catapult him. He landed on the Miami Herald’s front page this week — and at the front of the mission to preserve what makes us Miami.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.