University of Miami junior Stephen Murray has the enthusiasm of a college student and the determination of a politician—a combination he hopes will land him a spot on the Coconut Grove Village Council next week.
New representatives will be elected to the council Tuesday, Nov. 3. The election is held at the same time as the Mayor of Miami elections, and all residents of Coconut Grove who are registered voters, including UM students, may vote.
Sixteen candidates are running, and the top nine will begin their four year terms in January. The Coconut Grove Village Council discusses local issues, keeps residents updated on happenings in the City and County governments, and relays the opinions of residents to higher government officials.
“The council needs people who not only talk about doing good things, but actually do them,” said current council member Alyn Pruett, who believes Murray’s proactive approach towards civic issues and new perspective could benefit the council.
Pruett has been working with Murray on the Village Council’s Florida Power & Light Committee, formed in March to oppose a high voltage transmission line along South Dixie Highway.
Murray is originally from New York but spent nine years living overseas in Austria and Hungary.
He is majoring in political science and works as a Research/Teaching Assistant at the UM School of Business.
How does he juggle school, work, and a political campaign?
“Organization is key,” Murray said.
At 21, Murray is the youngest candidate by ten years, but he is not new to the political scene.
He is the Democratic Party Committeeman of Precinct 584, representing the 1300 Democratic voters of the West Grove to the local Democratic Party.
Murray spent the summer of 2006 working for Grassroots Campaigns Inc. in Philadelphia as the office’s lead field manager for the Democratic National Committee. He was one of the top averaging door-to-door fund-raisers in the country at the time.
He is a community activist in the West Grove, where he lives. He raised over $1500 in donations from Coconut Grove residents for the Soup Kitchen at Greater St. Paul AME Church, the only soup kitchen in the West Grove. He also gives free notary services to low-income residents as a Notary Public in the State of Florida.
“He’s fresh,” Dr. Maria Lorca, Murray’s former international studies and economics professor said. “He’s in touch with reality where older politicians tend to get caught up and lose that touch.”
As a student Murray says no outside factors such as ties to local businesses hinder his ability to be a true servant to the public.
“I’ve put myself in the fighting ring,” Murray said. “I’m ready to be the one to stand up for what’s right.”
Opponents try to label Murray as a “rowdy college kid”, but he says personal attacks will never force him to back down and disagrees with the stereotype this creates for all UM students.
“Our demographic is the best at giving back to the community, but the negative connotations that come with our age tend to overshadow that,” he said.
Murray hopes to re-extend the curfew of bars in Coconut Grove from 3am to 5am, a proposal he deems worthwhile in spite of the fuel it adds to critics trying to belittle him for being a college student.
Murray believes this would help the rapidly declining economy and increasingly glum atmosphere in Coconut Grove, where 18 local businesses have shut down in the last few months and countless workers have been laid off.
“We need to change the perception of the Grove back to ‘We want people to come here and have a good time’,” he said.
Murray believes Coconut Grove holds great potential, but worries that there is no voice of opposition to the government misspending that has become the status quo.
“I see the bullying that goes on behind closed doors; the money that is spent on master plans for projects that never get started,” Murray said. “I can’t stand to see people suffering when they don’t have to be.”
Murray hopes his campaign will make young people realize they do have the power to make a difference.
“We’re the ones who are going to be stuck with what decisions are made now,” Murray said. “Now is the time for us to take action. I’m living proof that when you do stand up for what you believe in, people will listen.”