Will pigs fly in St. Louis today? Maybe if 31-year Robert Vroman Sternberg manages to knock out a longtime incumbent today to become St. Louis' first Republican sheriff since 1928.
Sheriff James Murphy has held onto his office for 24 years, despite a series of controversies that have made him look inept, lazy, racist, and crooked. Today marks the 77 year old's seventh run for office. Murphy hasn't done interviews with the media in years, and in Vroman's words only wins because "he's the guy with the D next to his name."
This summer, Pastor Vernon Betts lost the party's nomination by just two percent--Murphy's most formidable opponent to date. Now Betts is endorsing Sternberg, a young real estate speculator, Ron Paul supporter, and Webster University grad with some bold, new ideas about how to run the Sheriff's office.
In St. Louis, the sheriff's deputies serve as court bailiffs, transfer inmates from prison to courtrooms, run tax auctions (on defaulted land), process serve for the Circuit Court, and oversee eviction proceedings. Vroman has earned an endorsement from the progressive advocacy group Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment for his strong stance on wrongful eviction.
"If elected will not carry out foreclosure evictions that were initiated by financial institutions, or their successor entities, who received federal bail-out money," Vroman says in a release from MORE, "a bank that went in to the taxpayer's pockets rather than suffer the consequences of bad deals, will get no assistance from me, if they expect their customers to play by rules they themselves would not."
We had a chance to chat with Vroman yesterday, as he prepared for the final hours of his long-shot campaign.
So what are your impressions of Sheriff Jim Murphy?
It's time for Murphy to go. He takes an egregious amount of time off, he's been hit by a number of scandals by the media, he's been found guilty of creating a racist work environment, and money has gone missing from his office.
Why does he keep getting re-elected?
Because he's a Democrat in a city that's majority Democratic. He's just the guy with the D next to his name.
I hear you have strong feelings about the way the Sheriff's office handles their auctions on defaulted property?
I work in real estate, mostly in North St. Louis. I think the city is kind of using these auctions from the sheriff's office as a pipeline to transfer distressed propertes into the hands of the LRA [Land Reutilization Authority, the city's 9,000 property-rich land bank]. They make absolutely no effort to publicize these auctions, aside from the tiny ad they run in the Post-Dispatch, which they are legally obligated to do.
But people living in these neighborhoods should know what's for sale and they should be given a chance to purcase these properties. Especially at prices this low, in poor neighborhoods people can actually scrap together the money and afford these things and do something with them. When they go to the city they get boarded up and forgotten forever. We should be flyering neighborhoods with information about these auctions and making sure people know about them.
The LRA, their rate of actually selling them back to the general public is very low. ... they turn down something like 80 percent of the offers they get and they don't have to provide any reason.
These auctions last for three days but I think they should run indefinitely. We should make sure people have every chance to purchase them and do something with them, before we send them to rot in the LRA.
Are the tax auctions run this way out of laziness or is it something more nefarious?
I don't have any hard evidence of this but I strongly suspect that there's an incentive for the city to seize these properties. They get to control these lots and try to appeal to guys like Paul McKee, these politically connected developers who aren't interested in what's best for the city and especially not in the people living around these buildings.
When there's an entrepruener who comes along up there and wants to buy a boarded up corner shop and turn it into some kind of business, the city says no. They're waiting or someone to come along and buy up 100 lots. But the fact is these businesses that employ 1 or 2 people are the bread and butter of the economy.
The city is trying to appeal to these big time developers but the fact is there aren't many of these guys around. it would take 50 Paul McKees to get that part of the city [north city] back to being a fully functional area.
What do you think your odds are here? If this is going to print, then I'm definitely winning.