Caruso should learn to handle criticism
© St. Petersburg Times,
Before the March election, we wrote this about Oldsmar City Council candidate Marcelo Caruso: "He has much to learn about how a city government operates."
Caruso apparently also has much to learn about how an elected representative of the people ought to behave and speak.
Caruso, who was elected to the City Council in March, has had some scandalous things to say about his critics in recent weeks.
First, he wrote to the Times that a woman who criticized him in a letter to the editor is a communist. He later admitted that he doesn't know the woman or her political party affiliation but just assumed she was a communist.
Then, at a City Council meeting last week, Caruso said of the U.S. Reform Party, "They are a bunch of Nazis, aren't they?"
They aren't, of course, but facts don't seem to matter to Caruso if someone has the audacity to disagree with him.
Both name-calling incidents arose during the ongoing community debate about Oldsmar's hosting of former Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello. Caruso, 30, was raised in Brazil, where his family knew Collor. Since Caruso, who has lived in the United States for about 12 years, was elected to the Oldsmar council, he has re-established contact with Collor.
First, he took his political mentor, Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland, to a fancy reception in June at Collor's home in Miami. Shortly afterward, Caruso invited Collor to visit Oldsmar. City Hall, not accustomed to feting foreign ex-presidents, scrambled to put together a luncheon and limousine tour of the area for Collor, spending more than $2,000 in public funds.
Some people were offended. Some of them were Brazilians now living in this area who remember Collor as a one-term president who was impeached after being accused of corruption in office. One of those Brazilians wrote a letter to the editor criticizing Caruso for honoring Collor in such a fashion, and she was the one branded a communist by Caruso.
Caruso has said he wants to use his connections in Brazil to increase trade between that country and Pinellas County. Caruso called Reform Party members Nazis after a party official who lives in Oldsmar said such trade talks were not likely to benefit American workers in the long run.
Caruso defends his actions. "I was not elected to be bashed on, especially when I'm trying to do something good," he told a Times reporter.
Those who are concerned about Oldsmar's awkward foray into foreign relations and Caruso's ties to an impeached Brazilian leader have a right to their opinion and a right to express it in a public forum if they choose. It is their government, after all, and they expect elected leaders to be careful about their conduct and maintain a respectable demeanor. Oldsmar council member David Tilki had it right when he chided Caruso for attacking others and reminded him to "remember where we are sitting."
It also was Tilki who wisely suggested that the city slow down and figure out what it is doing before it invites other foreign dignitaries to town. Caruso already had suggested that the city host the current Brazilian president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, for trade talks later this summer.
Caruso's outbursts call into question not only his knowledge of the American system of government but also his judgment and maturity.
In this country, people have the right to criticize their government and elected officials. It is a precious liberty, and people who exercise that liberty should not have their names smeared as a result.
If Caruso cannot tolerate the people's critique of the job he is doing, he should not be in office.
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