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USVI in a campaign mode

By John Collins (1)

Preparations for November elections for governor, lieutenant governor, 15 senators and Delegate to Congress heating up.

[Election Chart]

On November 5 voters in the neighbouring U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) go to the polls for the ninth time to elect a governor and lieutenant governor to lead the territory for the next four years.

The present governor, educator Charles Wesley Turnbull, a Democrat,  is nearing the completion of his first term and is already opposed by six other candidates. At present all of his opponents have declared their intentions to run as independents with the exception of a lone Republican candidate, Michael Bornn, and Turnbull’s lieutenant governor, Gerard Luz James II.

James, like Turnbull, ran as a Democrat four years ago. A former St. Croix undertaker, James has broken with Turnbull and announced his candidacy and his running mate but has not decided whether he will run as a Democrat or as an independent. A Democratic primary, if held, would be in September. If James decides to enter it he would be pitted against his former running mate.

In viewing the political situation in the USVI there are a number of factors which it is important to take into account regarding the gubernatorial elections. Virgin Islanders were granted the right to elect their own governors and lieutenant governors by the U.S. Congress in 1969 and the first election was held in 1970. With one exception, if the gubernatorial candidate is from St. Croix, by tradition the running mate is from St. Thomas or vice versa. For example, Turnbull is from St. Thomas, James is from St. Croix.

Even though a lot of thought goes into the selection of the teams that end up running together, there is a definite peculiarity in the mix because there have been a number of teams that have ended up divided. The estrangement between Turnbull and James also occurred between former Gov. Roy Schneider and his Lt. Gov. Kenneth Mapp and on other occasions before them.

The balance between the two major islands, while still important, is further complicated today by the complex mosaic the USVI have become with the influx during the last four decades of continental Americans, large numbers of West Indians from virtually every island state in the region, and then smaller communities of Arabs, East Indians and even French, among others.

Thousands of Puerto Ricans in the USVI

Thousands of Puerto Ricans now also live in the USVI, mainly on St. Croix, and they descend from migrant workers who began going to St. Croix as early as the 1920s. One of them, former Governor Juan Luis was born in Vieques and went to St. Croix as a child. In recent years other Latinos, particularly from the Dominican Republic, have taken up residence in the both major islands. Only one of the 12 candidates for the two highest offices on Nov. 5 are Latino – Miguel A. Camacho.

As the result of increasing naturalizations the roles of some of these various groups has increased and they are appealed to by candidates more and more. A number of naturalized citizens from other islands have been elected to the territorial Legislature in recent years.

In the last USVI gubernatorial election in 1998 (CB Nov. 19, 1998 & Jan. 14, 1999) there was an upset with Turnbull and James getting 59% of the vote and ousting the preceding Gov. Roy Schneider and his running mate who only got 41%. Some were not surprised with the upset because it reflected the widespread discontent of the electorate with the Schneider style of governance.

This time around it is much more complicated because there are six candidates challenging Turnbull. A number of observers feel this also reflects growing discontent of the electorate with the massive problems facing the territory as well as the growing questioning of Turnbull’s managerial capacity.

A number of keen observers of the USVI political scene are convinced that Turnbull faces the major challenge from respected St. Thomas businessman John de Jongh, a former president of the Chamber of Commerce and a former Commissioner of Finance. Other candidates getting high marks are Michael Bornn, the lone Republican, and Dr. Cora Christian of St. Croix, a physician, former assistant Commissioner of Health and the most recent president of the Caribbean Studies Association.

Although they are conducting credible campaigns, neither Lt. Gov. James or former Sen.. Lloyd Williams  are viewed as having much of a chance. 

Since most indications are that a Democratic primary in September is unlikely, what could happen on Nov. 5, as has happened several times before, is that no candidate will get the required 50%+1 and thus trigger a run-off two weeks later between the top two vote getters.

If past elections are an indication of what occurs then during those two weeks leading up to the runoff is that most of the losing candidates could throw their support to the top two while others could decline to endorse neither.

Government performance a big issue

The number of government employees, once one-third of the work force of 39,000, have contracted under Turnbull. While some say performance of government has improved, others point to a bloated patronage with Turnbull getting particular criticism for putting friends and relatives on the payroll and giving them handsome increases in pay, in some cases by over $20,000 a year.

Turnbull has tightened up the fiscal situation in the government somewhat but he still has a massive $1.3 billion indebtedness he inherited. He is still trying to get the federal government to forgive several loans, in the hundreds of million of dollars, in connection with hurricane relief provided.

The Turnbull administration is increasingly perceived as anti-business both by local business people as well as by outside investors and those considering investing in the territory. Some business people complain particularly about the hostility to businessin the Legislature and charge in emboldens some in the bureaucracy to be less than accommodating to business people. While some say it has declined slightly, others say the permit and licensing process can sometimes be a nightmare.

Other problems concerning residents are the economy, education and crime. The economy is concentrated in tourism which creates a particular problem for Turnbull on St. Croix since major cruise lines have abandoned that island complaining about crime. St. Thomas, on the other hand, is as popular as ever with the cruise lines and on some days residents complain Main Street is too crowded.

Education is a bid issue in the campaign because the Middle States Association of Secondary Schools took away the accreditation of the territory’s three public schools which is viewed as an embarrassment to Turnbull, an educator and a former Commissioner of Education. When the accreditation was yanked, Turnbull fired his commissioner, also an educator.

While crime is a problem on St. Croix because of the negative impact it has had on that island’s faltering tourism, it is a problem on both St. Thomas and St. John as well and concerns both residents and visitors alike.

As August 1 approaches Virgin Islanders are getting ready to enter the three month campaign prepared for large doses of political rhetoric. Although voter participation in 1998 was lower than usual, predictions are that this November, given the large number of candidates, that turn out could again exceed the traditional 80%.

The USVI comprise 132 square miles and have a population of 110,000 inhabitants. 



Michael Bornn (Republican) Morty Golden (Rep.)
Dr. Cora Christian (Independent) George Hodge (Ind.)
John deJongh (Ind.) Paul Arnold (Ind.)
Gerard Luz James II (?) Maryleen Thomas (?)
Charles W. Turnbull (Democrat) Vargrave Richards (Democrat)
Lloyd L. Williams (Ind.) Miguel A. Camacho (Ind.)
Ike Williams (Ind.) Jonathan Marius (Ind.)

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1) Other articles by the well known Caribbean author John Collins can be read at:

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July 22, 2002


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