Modern Day Colonialism and Trolleygate
To paraphrase Rene Margritte: This is not a trolly

At a lunch meeting yesterday with a Miami developer (who wishes to remain anonymous) I mentioned how my next blog post on Trolleygate would be called “Modern Day Colonialism.” 

I started riffing — kicking around the analogy — and compared developers building in Coconut Grove to the original 13 Colonies. Those colonies were really only business charters, set up by the British Crown/Parliament, that allowed the corporations to plunder all they saw and send the bounty back to the home country. Simply replace “Crown/Parliament” with “Miami City Commission” — and “colonial charters” with “building permits” awarded the Modern Day Colonists™ — and the analogy is complete. Once Marc Sarnoff [allegedly] greases the wheels for them, rapacious developers are free to plunder the rich cultural heritage of West Coconut Grove, aka Black Coconut Grove.

By the time I was done riffing I had the rough outline of my next Trolleygate post in my head. Then I came home and read a Letter to the Editor from Carlos Medina on the Miami Herald website that said what I was going to say a whole lot better and in far fewer words:

Miami, Gables practice ‘brick-and-mortar’ racism
I have been invested in the Coconut Grove community for 20 years, as a volunteer, an employee of a business there and a concerned citizen. Moving Coral Gables’ trolley-bus repair depot to the West Grove is an action steeped in historical injustice. Once again, this pleasant community is being treated unjustly, with condescension and with a sense of privileged charity by those in power, whether they are business people or politicians. 

What I saw and heard at a recent meeting run by city of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff was appalling. Sarnoff is on the wrong side of this issue, as are the phantom Coral Gables politicians who sent their lawyer but skipped this important meeting, which was overwhelmingly attended by West Grove residents. Sarnoff’s presentation was self-serving and insulting, publicizing the names of those in need who he so selflessly helped throughout his career. 

This is a racial issue of the first order. It is a replay of the playbook from the ’50s and ’60’s used by people with political and economic power to place their ‘inconvenient’ highways, stadiums, garages, depots, hospitals and prisons in the less powerful neighborhoods. Then they would cite “property rights” to sugarcoat such unseemly actions and the sprinkling of “benefits” already bestowed upon the “ungrateful” neighborhood. 

That is why Sarnoff’s presentation was so demeaning to our local democracy. He defended Coral Gables, with people who do not vote for him; there was the glaring absence of any Coral Gables politician and a “master knows best” attitude vividly on display. I was moved by the large presence of residents and by the many volunteers who are working like mad, on various fronts, to put a stop to this miscarriage of justice. 

I suggest that the West Grove community contact Al Sharpton and Bishop Victor Curry, of Miami’s New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International, who sits on the board of Sharpton’s National Action Network. Jesse Jackson should also be informed. If necessary, I am willing to donate funds, time and heart to help make this possible. 

The glaring light of the media that their presence attracts will expose what is going on in Miami. The West Grove is a living witness and survivor of brick-and-mortar racism. 

Let the City Beautiful build its oh-so-perfect repair depot within its own boundaries. Let the West Grove residents have some peace. And let Commissioner Sarnoff, who has done many wonderful things for Miami, get back on the right side of this issue and use his talent to protect and preserve the neighborhood of those who voted for him. 

Carlos Medina, Miami

Mr. Medina hit the nail on the head. I have been doing research into Marc Sarnoff’s interaction with his Black constituents. It’s not good. “Some people say” he shows a fear of Blacks, citing the size of the entourage he took with him to campaign for office in the West Grove. Apparently Sarnoff would send someone to the door of the house, while he waited on the sidewalk until he knew whether it was safe to approach.

I was at the same meeting Mr. Medina attended and thought I detected a threat from Sarnoff during his presentation. While reading between the lines, it sounded like told the West Grove residents if the neighbourhood didn’t play along with the Coral Gables diesel bus garage being plopped into West Grove, the community would not only lose the $200,000 renovation to a football field, but West Grove might also lose his backing for the current urban renewal projects awaiting City of Miami approval. Was that really what I heard? Nah! It couldn’t be. It was far too naked a threat to be real.

As the newbie to Coconut Grove politics I asked someone who has years of experience dealing with Sarnoff, “Did I see a subtle threat?” The emailed reply:

It was a threat. That’s his standard MO. I call it the Sarnoff Dance. It has three steps, Ingratiate, Intimidate, and Attack. There are three steps to his dealing with anyone he considers a potential threat. First, he strokes their ego, makes them feel like they are his friend, includes them in something to make them feel special. That’s enough for him to get most people on his side. If that doesn’t work, he does them a favor, often something they really need and that may not be quite kosher, to get them in line or shut them up. Like arranging for the football field payoff. If that doesn’t work, he resorts to veiled threats, like you saw at the meeting. Finally, if he still doesn’t get what he wants, he attacks. Like I said, economic terrorist.

When I mentioned how Sarnoff struck me as being extremely uncomfortable talking to the Black community and there seemed to be a large police presence in the room, I got the following reply:

Half of the uniformed officers assigned to the Grove were at the back of the Commission Chambers during the Town Hall Meeting. Don’t think that was a normal thing. I have never seen more than one uniformed officer there, even for the most controversial items. He was extremely uncomfortable, and that is what you were seeing. He usually comes across as very polished and well spoken […]

So far no one is willing to go on the record to allege racism on the part of Marc D. Sarnoff. However, I have been given several promising tips. Eventually someone will go on the record and when they do, I’ll publish it here. Just a reminder: I now have a Marc D. Sarnoff tip line. Feel free to contribute information. All tips remain confidential.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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