Just as the Miami City Commission was wrapping up a marathon meeting last night, Commissioner Joe Carollo turned to Commissioner Ken Russell and began chuckling.
“I’ve been meaning to say, but I wanted to wait to the end,” Carollo said with a grin. “The more I look at you, I’m becoming fond of that Kim Jung-un new look you’ve got.”
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Russell, the city’s first Asian-American commissioner, quickly objected. But Carollo plowed on.
“I’m just wondering if that’s in favor of the nuclear negotiations with Trump or showing your protest against Trump and his meeting with Kim?” Carollo asked.
The chamber erupted in laughter, but Russell, whose mother is Japanese, wasn’t amused. “Meeting adjourned,” he quickly announced before finding Carollo to tell him he found the joke racist.
“Tonight at the City Commission, Commissioner Carollo made a joke likening my appearance to Korean dictator Kim Jong-un,” Russell wrote on Twitter. “I let him know that racist humor is unacceptable. People have made Asian jokes around me since I was a kid. Wasnâ€™t funny then. Not funny now.”
Carollo didn’t immediately respond to a message from New Times about the comment. But Russell tells New Times that Carollo was unapologetic when Russell confronted him after the meeting.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry if you can’t take a joke,'” Russell says.
The so-called joke came at the tail end of a frustrating meeting for Carollo. He had pushed multiple amendments related to Mayor Francis Suarez’s bid to move to a strong-mayor system of government, but all the items were voted down by the commission. Just before making the joke, he lost another bid to stall a lease for a new sailing center in Russell’s district.
Whatever sparked Carollo’s comment, Russell says he has no tolerance for race-based taunting in 2018.
“There’s an Old-World sense of humor that has no place in today’s politics or today’s culture in general. What maybe used to be a funny racist or misogynist joke is no longer acceptable,” he says. “It’sÂ been a long time since Joe Carollo was on the scene. We have video cameras recording everything said on the dais now.”
Russell’s father, an American World War II veteran, became an international yo-yo champion and met his mother, who was Japan’s top yo-yo performer, while traveling on a world tour. The family settled in Coral Gables, where Russell was born and grew up.
This isn’t the first time Carollo has been accused of racism. During the former Miami mayor’s campaign for city commission last fall, he attacked his opponent for once taking a photo with rapper Juvenile in a mailer that critics said played on racial stereotypes of African-Americans.
Russell says Carollo’s remark last night was a clear-cut case of racism.
“Racist jokes are not jokes. Theyâ€™re just racist. That is all,”Â Russell wrote on Twitter.