An open letter to the community

Having just passed the one year anniversary of when I announced my candidacy, and amid a hectic period of time here in Miami, I decided to reflect on what has been going on from my perspective. It has been an emotional roller coaster for me. I have learned so much but made quite a few mistakes along the way. I’ve met many new interesting people, but have lost a few relationships that I greatly cherished.

First of all, I really appreciate all of the kind words of support I have received in the last few months. I can’t express enough how humbling it is that people would take the time out of their busy days to write me letters of encouragement.  It means so much to me. It has been a busy year for me between juggling full-time school, my job as a Teaching Assistant, my work on the Council and as an activist, taking care of my wonderful dogs, and spending time with my amazing friends.  I am so grateful and consider myself very fortunate to have such caring friends, loving parents and dedicated supporters.

While I have faced criticism from some in our community over the ferocity of some of my actions, I remind those few that politics is unfortunately an ugly sport. The cesspool that my new position has allowed me to witness in the ten months since the election makes me sick to my stomach and has resulted in many sleepless nights. I will admit that given the recent letters I have written, it does not seem that I have retained my optimism and positivity about the future of our community, however I would argue that sometimes hope for a positive future means confronting the many sources of greed and corruption that plague our society.

The most difficult struggle for me has been against the cynicism that is attempting to creep into my heart, trying to convince me that one lone voice can no longer make an impact in an inherently flawed political system. There is some truth to that notion —  one voice can be silenced by the whispers that a select group of cowards, those who stand to lose from any change to our corrupt system, quietly utter out of the public eye and under the cloak of anonymity.  But as more and more people take notice to the injustice of our system — one that political and business elites have perverted in such a way that enables them to divert public resources towards the depths of their own personal fortunes — the growing choir of the disenfranchised is beginning to find the courage to drown out those whispers and demand action.

And as a side note to those who wish to silence me by spreading lies to people that I’m doing this for my own personal financial gain — you can spread your baseless gossip and attempt to assassinate my character, but remember that in the end the facts always speak for themselves. As this situation unfolds over time, the evidence continues to mount on a daily basis on just how much you are profiting from this system.  I spend substantial amounts of my own personal time and resources to wage this fight on principle because unlike you, I actually care about the future of this community and am willing to make sacrifices and risk my own personal safety to protect that future.

Like I said earlier, politics is an ugly sport, and the experience that the voters of Coconut Grove have afforded me has provided quite a lot of insight into exactly how ugly it can be. While it has emboldened me as a citizen, that insight has all but deterred me from trying to become an “athlete” when I grow up. Regardless of which path I do end up charging down as my life moves forward, I will always be one loud voice amidst the choir that demands responsible and ethical governance.  A lot of brave men and women in our nation’s history have fought and died to protect the freedom for people to stand up for what they believe in, and that freedom is not one I plan give up without a fight of my own.

With all of the love and optimism that gets me out of bed in the morning, I remain most humbly yours.

-Stephen Murray

3 Responses to “An open letter to the community”
  1. logi romero says:

    Beautiful letter, Steven. It’s easy, indeed, to become a cynic under the circumstances you have been going throuogh. I know you won’t and that you will continue to fight injustice and work diligently to help the members of your/our communnity. God bless you!

  2. Doug Fishman says:

    Dear Steven,

    I just peaked at your website and found this wonderful letter. I admire your wonderful commitment to your work on the council on behalf of your community. They are lucky to have you.

    Take care,
    Doug Fishman

  3. Bob Lapsley says:

    Unless we have powerful narratives that appeal directly to gut emotions, unless we better understand how emotions fundamentally shape political issues, unless we also incorporate gut emotions into our appeals, we will continue to lose the hearts and minds of the wider populace.

    The rich man is “indifferent to the needs of the poor,” and his claims to external virtue and legal satisfaction could not compensate for this neglect. Jesus taught, repeatedly, that the Kingdom of God is within the soul and not in the law.

    My name is Bob Lapsley; I live at 3268 Charles Ave. I want to be heard and more understood as a good neighbor, here to help preserve and strengthen the West Grove community. I have been here for eight years now; and in that time I have never been shown anything other than kindness and generosity of spirit from every neighbor I have met. I want to tell you, the golden rule is alive and well in the West Grove! That’s what I know. West Grove roots run as deep as any in Miami. Family histories go back generations. It’s unique in qualities, quality of life shared as each had need, shared history both good and bad. This community is undervalued; and consequently, the residents and their communal ties are threatened.

    Preserving and strengthening this West Grove community of 5000 residents is undervalued. It is my hope and my intention to advocate for strengthening the community, the residents, the families, the people, and oppose the rezoning of 3247 and 3227 Charles Ave. I understand I’m swimming against the tide. Considering the majority of district 2 constituents, I feel like the sheep surrounded by wolves, and I am offered a vote in deciding what to eat for dinner.

    But serious and oppressive is the persistent and growing pressure that bears down on the residents of West Grove. The pressure of disproportionately advantaged economic interests, relatively powerful interests lusting for our properties. And they are once again threatening to further erode the community in order to profit the few, by transforming single-family lots it into a commercial commodity with a price tag.

    This is not a new or uncommon threat. But history has taught us that following this path has subjected the disadvantaged stakeholders to displacement by the advantaged interests. And there is more we should have learned by now. Implicit in following this model, something not really addressed, is the knowledge that the jobs offered only serve to keep the locals impoverished while the lions share of economic advantage derived from the resource is siphoned away from this community and concentrated in hands distant and unconcerned with the welfare of the West Grove community.

    The West Grove is economically stressed. Between the West Grove and the rest of district 2 there is a significant income disparity. A parking attendant is not a job to speak of, but investors and developers do… as if it is a living wage. The same applies to working in a Publix store. In order for a couple and their two children to afford the basics we take for granted, a household needs to bring home $11.50/HR. (H.H.S. poverty threshold) Anything less falls below the poverty threshold; a family living with this income cannot meet the minimal income necessary to afford the minimal standards of food, clothing, health care and shelter. This definition of poverty does not include childcare, a car, or a telephone, three items that seem essential today. Another way of looking at poverty is in relative terms. Relative to the rest of the district 2, West Grove residents have significantly less access to income and wealth. The relative poverty can directly be linked to income inequality. I call it subsistence poverty. Evidence suggests the “Iron Law of Wages” applies here, where labor supply exceeds demand, and wages do gravitate to subsistence levels. Subsistence poverty is a threat. Not only do the lack of choices available perpetuate the situation, but also the choices available perpetuate continued poverty in the community.

    Today less than 50% of West Grove residents are owner-occupiers; the rest must rent, most from absentee landlords. Minority home ownership rates nation wide are at levels not seen since the great depression, again less than half. I know first hand West Grove has been hit particularly hard by foreclosures, families are being displaced by still more investors and absentee landlords. I am here to say unequivocally “that‘s not good for this community!” It increases feelings of disconnect from mainstream and that carries risk.

    The stability of the privileged ultimately rests on the security of the least, the last and the lowest. Recent world events exemplify how the stability that the privileged take for granted is illusory, and how when frustration reaches critical point, a change of state is inevitable. It is the typical dynamic of non-equilibrium systems. It can be seen in market crashes, political revolutions, forest fires, avalanches, every dynamic system which is driven away from equilibrium will self organize to the critical point and maintain an unsteady state until some trigger unleashes the pent up frustrations and change cascades far and wide from the point of origin. It is unreasonable to think any good can stem from the persistent and systemic increasing inequality.

    Our properties are being transformed into commodities auctioned off to investors who don’t want to raise their family here! They want to rezone it, and raise the price tag. By decree, have a new value added commodity created. I advocate value added people not commodities! Each of our precious little pieces of earth is of course much more than a commodity. It is the foundation of stable families and of stable community.

    Unfortunately the efficient capitalist persistently scours this landscape seeking economic opportunities, forever seeking to secure dwindling strategic resources. Right now these two residential lots have been deeded to a legal firm of investors/developers with the same old narrative. Argued from this mindset, the zoning and land use changes before you seek to unleash the potential of an “underperforming resource”. Through this lens these lots are seen as a resource rich with myriad opportunities to expand commercial markets and increase the revenue base, a resource to parley and leverage for maximized returns on capital, benefiting the investor’s coffers and by extension, with your consensual legislation, the coffers of Miami Dade.

    The common ground here, resides in the two lots. Common in the sense that they have been set aside and held by statute for families to reside in the West Grove. So has it been historically. Now they are in the hands of investors. I understand there have always been examples of “for profit” private firms using community property; and we tell ourselves it has some communal affiliation, some communal utility. But do we really need more low wage jobs displacing families?

    “Ownership” grants rights to use property without any necessary reciprocal relationship to community; still we impose boundaries and restrictions because the rights of ownership ARE correlated to the interests of the community; that is obvious by the fact we are here tonight. Also obvious, is an understanding that zoning and land use designations only loosely bind property rights. They can be easily changed by your councils vote. In this case I hope your councils judgments reflect the values shared by the real stakeholders, this small community of 5000 at risk residents, of that tight knit community West Grove. I ask you reconsider the value of a stable citizenry and community; resist the temptation, resist displacing the vulnerable. In a simple sense you are being asked to further erode a vulnerable and disadvantaged community in favor of market expansion by removing the resident’s only safe guards that stand in the way of investors.

    You the board are charged with governing the communal organization of private property and judging its public utility. And once again your judgment will demonstrate for the West Grove community how you view their future, my future. Will you add value to people or to a firm, to community or to commodity?

    Thank you for taking the time to hear me.
    Bob Lapsley

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  • Disclaimer

    The contents of this blog do not reflect the opinions of the Coconut Grove Village Council, the Democratic National Committee, the Florida Democratic Party, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, or any elected official or organization referenced herein.

    All opinions are exclusively those of Stephen Murray.

    All content (c) 2010 Stephen Murray

  • Credit

    Blog Layout and Design: Cassie Oswald (

    Banner Photo Credit: Lindsay Brown for The Miami Hurricane

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