The Miami Herald Weighs In

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Posted on Tue, Sep. 27, 2011

UM student leaves Grove Council, heads home to New York

By Julio Menache

When University of Miami sophomore Stephen Murray first moved to the West Grove in 2008, he was saddened by some of the issues plaguing the area: poverty, high unemployment, lack of after-school programs for kids.With only $185 in campaign funds, the 20-year-old went on to win a seat on the Coconut Grove Village Council seat in 2009. He is believed to be the youngest person ever to win a seat on the elected board.Murray — known by some in West Grove as ‘The Kid’ — directed his attention to issues facing the West Grove, such as affordable housing, while also becoming a vocal critic of Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.Now, after two years in office, ‘The Kid’ is saying his final goodbye to South Florida.

Murray abruptly resigned from the council this month to return to his home state of New York to tend to his grandfather, who has terminal cancer.

Murray visited his family back in July, where he learned that his grandfather only had a few months left to live, and decided it was time to go home.

“My grandmother passed a couple of years ago,” said Murray, now 23. “I wasn’t able to be there for her. I didn’t want the same thing to happen this time.”

Murray, who juggled going to school full-time while serving as a councilman, says the move back home will also give him time to think about life after college.

“I was under a lot of pressure,” said Murray, “I’m thinking a lot clearer now that I’m back home.”

Michelle Niemeyer, chairwoman of the Village Council, said Murray was mature for a person his age.

“He backed up what he said with action. When he said he’d so something, he’d do it. To me, that’s mature and responsible,” said Niemeyer.

Niemeyer said Murray’s legacy will be his work on a subcommittee that monitored FPL’s proposed installation of high power transmission lines along U.S. 1. Residents were concerned about the electromagnetic fields emitted from the lines. The issues still lingers today, as plans to build the proposed lines have been delayed.

“Steven developed relations with all politicians relative to that issue,” said Niemeyer. “He did a very good job representing the council. I know he cared very much about it.”

Council member Kate Callahan said that Murray was a “whiz kid” when it came to technology.

“He’s so computer literate and savvy. Just the way he facilitates things on the computer is amazing,” Callahan said.

Callahan, who is running for a City Commission seat, tapped Murray to be one of her campaign advisors. The 59-year-old, who holds a master’s degree from Harvard University, still calls Murray for guidance.

“I call him up for advice. He’s still a great resource. Smart as a whip,” said Callahan. “He wants for this city the same thing I want, which is righting its moral compass.”

J.S. Rashid, CEO of the Coconut Grove Collaborative Inc., which advocates for affordable housing in Coconut Grove said Murray was a “prodigy”.

“He was bold, brash and young,” said Rashid. “He was an excellent voice for the West Grove. He made a sincere effort to make a difference.”

Rashid worked with Murray on the Grand Avenue Kiosk Project, a proposal which looked to build 10 retail kiosks along Grand Avenue in West Grove, which would sell Caribbean-style goods and foods. Rashid says the economic activity would create jobs encourage people to come to West Grove and help decrease criminal activity.

“There’s a vicious cycle of unemployment in the West Grove that predates the recession,” said Murray. “It doesn’t allow young black males to get real work. There needs to be some sort of brainstorming as to what to do to solve it.”

Murray and Rashid also worked on a proposal called the Thelma Gibson Community and Educational Center that looks to build 54 units of affordable rental housing at 3629 Grand Ave., with an educational center staffed by students of the University of Miami’s School of Education.

In June 2010, Murray wrote an open letter to then-County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, asking for Gimenez to approve funding for the project.

“Without the advocacy of Murray and others we couldn’t have gotten where we are today,” said Rashid.

While the kiosk proposal failed, the Gibson project is currently looking for approval from the county.

Back in 2010, Murray, along with two other staunch critics of City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, complained to city officials that the commissioner had violated the scope of his permit to run a law firm in his home at 3000 Shipping Ave. The permit allows for a quarter of the home to be used for the office. It also must have only one employee.

Murray, along with Mr. Moes owner John El-Masry and activist Al Crespo, who runs the blog Crespo Gram, claimed that Sarnoff was using the entire home for the business and that both his wife and law partner Neil Bayer worked at the house.

On Aug. 26, the commissioner was served with a notice of a code violation stating Sarnoff failed to follow the requirements for a home occupation business.

While the city code enforcers later inspected the house and found Sarnoff was in compliance with the city code, the trio filled an ethics complaint against Sarnoff and the city’s code enforcement director Sergio Guadix alleging that Sarnoff used his official position to influence the investigation of the code violation.

The ethics panel declined to hear the complaint, claiming that Sarnoff fixed all code violations in the allotted time.

Murray claims that the panel didn’t even read the detailed 100-page complaint.

“It wasn’t so much the illegal use of the law office; it was how the commissioner handled the issue,” Murray said. “The crux of the complaint was misuse of power. The ethics commission just threw it out.”

Crespo, who calls himself a ‘20th century guy’, said Murray’s tech savvy was instrumental for the case.

“He did some very good research for me,” said Crespo.

As for what lies ahead for Murray, he is still a few credits short of his college degree. He is planning to finish soon, then he’ll decide between attending law school or graduate school. But he doesn’t see himself returning to Miami.

“I’m a New Yorker. I’ve lived overseas all my life since my dad works for Coca-Cola. I really haven’t lived here in New York for a long time. I was getting homesick,” said Murray.

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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 (http://www.cassieoswald.com)

    Banner Photo Credit: Lindsay Brown for The Miami Hurricane

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