Before my talk with her I had no idea at all what to make of Coral Gables Commission Group V Candidate Sandra Murado. Murado has been a lawyer for 22 years. She has worked at the state attorney’s office, then as a divorce lawyer, and now has an immigration law practice.
She’s seemed, and to some degree remains, the most confusing candidate in the Group V race. On the one hand – no wait, we’re going to need a lot of hands here, let’s try that again.
Item: I put some serious stock in word of mouth. Murado is getting some good word of mouth. I’ve had more people spontaneously tell me that they were impressed by her than any other candidate. OK, that makes her score about four, but that’s still two more than anyone else.
Item: I like some of her friends. Daisy Baez is one of the people who came told me how great Murado is. Murado also has an endorsement from SAVE, which is a big plus.
Item: I do NOT like some of her friends. Reportedly she was recruited to run by Mayor Jim Cason, and shares his campaign consultant. As I’ve said before, I think Cason’s support of (or if you go with some stories, domination by) the old City Manager was a big problem. And continuing to support Salerno after he was caught misleading the Commission is just totally unacceptable to me. Ms. Murado was noncommittal when I put this point to her, refusing to take one side or the other. That really worries me.
Item: She’s been a strong advocate for a good cause, fighting the proposal for Somerset, the mega-charter school proposed for the University Baptist Church site.
Item: She’s a poster person (see page 18) for the James Madison Institute – a really really far right political group that thinks it is a think tank. The James Madison Institute lauded her for helping to “rein in excessive growth in government spending” by fighting to limit pensions as a way to limit the City’s unfunded liabilities – an issue that will likely endear her to many voters.
Item: Local gadfly George Volsky is talking her up – a very bad sign on its own, and further evidence of the Cason connection since Volsky is totally in the tank for Cason. Murado reprints a cranky Volsky column prominently on her campaign web site, one trashing Ariel Fernandez and Jeannett Slesnick.
Item: Murado is very articulate, seems smart. I like that.
Item: Murado’s lawyerlyness trips her up sometime. More than once in the two candidates’ events she’s given legally correct but politically tone-deaf answers to questions.
I put my standard list of questions to Murado a couple of days ago.
Murado told me that she thinks the Master Plan should be respected. If residents think it needs changing then there is a conversation to be had, but “I don’t think it needs to changed.” Development didn’t seem to be an issue she wanted particularly to dwell on. She’s for green spaces, and has taken initiatives while on the parks and recreation board. “I am for preserving public spaces for many reasons – recreation, health, respite from the crazy hurried world.” As for the sea level rise problem, Murado says she’s working on it: sea level rise “is a matter that I’m individually researching” via contacts who with South Florida ties, scientists, engineers, and professionals. “It’s an issue and priority for me to study” and something she would be prepared to bring up to the Commission.
If the city gets a new revenue inflow, then part of it should be used to pay down the unfunded liabilities and part to reinvest in our infrastructure. Some should be put in reserves and used as needed to improve the quality of services.
I pressed for more detail on what those infrastructure improvements might be, and Murado said that the money would be there in case there needs to be any maintenance of historical buildings, even city hall. In general City property needs to be maintained “to a exceptional quality.” We need more street lighting. We need more cleaning and need to fix street signs. In general, Murado said, she wants to “make it an aesthetically pleasing community throughout.”
Playing Devil’s advocate, I prompted Murado on an item that she had left out on her list – what about tax cuts via lowering the millage? To my dismay, that provoked an instant about-face, and Murado revised her list and said that lowering the millage rate would be in her top three, the top three now being the millage, unfunded liabilities, and increasing our reserves. Ahead of infrastructure? Yes. (As regular readers will know, that’s not the answer I was hoping for.)
What about the garbage fee? “I would have to study it further. I wouldn’t have it as a top priority on my list.” (Fair enough.)
Murado showed her best side when we discussed the election date. Like Jeannette Slesnick, Murado noted that the April date was chosen to limit the number of people voting. If the election were in November, turnout would be higher. Unlike Slesnick, Murado sees this as a real problem: “I think turnout needs to be higher,” Murado said. “I think people need to be engaged. If that means changing it to November. I’m all for an engaged and informed electorate.” Again playing Devil’s advocate, I asked her whether that risked making UM students – who do vote in November but not in August or April – potentially too able to dominate Commission elections. To her credit, Murado wasn’t phased at all, “UM students reside here. They have a right to participate. If they do not … it’s a choice. They’re here now, they could vote, school’s not out.”
Murado also said she would support adding a runoff, whenever the election was.
Murado is running as a moralist: “I choose to be involved. it’s not work, It’s joyful to me.” What voters should look for is “someone who does their homework, has a moral and ethical standard. I take the public trust very seriously.” She professes to be shocked about others’ conflicts of interest, giving the example of a union lawyer (former Mayor Slesnick) voting on union contracts (even though none of those unions were or ever had been his clients.) I’m for high ethical standards too, but that isn’t the example I would have started with.
Murado is also for radical transparency in government: If elected, she told me, she would propose that all email communications to and from Commissioners and the City Manger should become public records. [I asked, were they not already public records under Florida’s wide-ranging Sunshine Law?] Murado said that wasn’t enough: “I would put it online.” People shouldn’t have to go to City Hall to get the information; it should be accessible and easy to find. Similarly, every payment by the City of Coral Gables should be “easy to find and accessible so you know where your money is going.” I like the expense transparency of this very much; the first part strikes me as calculated to ensure people do not write anything down, and thus somewhat self-defeating.
Although I wanted to be convinced Murado was the candidate for me, by the time I was done I was more persuaded of the opposite. When a candidate running on moral purity won’t take a stand on the Salerno firing, well, what kind of purity is that? Plus what sort of candidate at this late stage of the race doesn’t have a more fixed set of spending priorities?
I had hoped be more positive. Murado has a history of fighting the good fight for causes she believes in, some of which I agree with, other less so. She’d be a fierce advocate for the causes she cares about. But in light of the mixed nature of the items above, I think I’m voting for someone else. Now all I have to do is to to figure out who…