Nov. 6, 2002 – It's all over now but the shouting — which is in full gear — and the counting of the potentially rebalancing absentee ballots. But no matter how you slice it, the Democratic Party will have the majority in the 25th Legislature.
Democratic newcomers have unseated some entrenched, and some thought unbeatable, members of the current majority. In the St. Thomas-St. John district, St. Thomas-Water Island Administrator Louis Hill finished a strong fifth, slightly ahead of 10-term Sen. Lorraine Berry, also a Democrat. Shawn-Michael Malone is clinging to the seventh seat, 19 votes ahead of incumbent majority Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole.
The absentee ballots could change that and could conceivably also give a boost to eighth-place Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel, another majority bloc member. If both were pushed into the winners' circle, they would displace Berry, in sixth place, and Malone, in seventh.
On St. Croix, newcomer Luther Renee received the second-highest vote in the district, after fellow Democrat and incumbent Sen. Douglas Canton Jr. Renee ran unsuccessfully as an independent in 2000 election but aligned himself with the Democrats this time around, as did attorney Ronald Russell, who garnered fifth place in his first bid for the Senate. Incumbent Democrat David Jones finished fourth.
It's possible that absentee votes could move the eighth- and ninth-place finishers, veteran Sen. Adelbert M. Bryan and newcomer Juan Figueroa-Serville, into the top seven on St. Croix; should that happen, sixth-ranked independent Sen. Emmett Hansen II and seventh-place Independent Citizens Movement newcomer Raymond "Usie" Richards would be the losers.
For the moment, however, the Democratic lineup for the 25th Legislature is an eight-member majority: Sens. Berry, Canton, David, Hill, Jones, Malone, Renee and Russell.
Democrats of record Hansen and Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who opted to cast their lots in the current Legislature with the unaligned majority, could return to the Democratic fold now, but neither has made a definitive statement as yet. There's been no delay in jockeying for position on St. Croix, where several senators were reported to be meeting Wednesday, but their staffs would not release any information.
The power-broking begins
The Democrats ruled in the 23rd Legislature but lost their clout in the 24th. However, as Berry said on Wednesday morning, it's good to have a majority with more than the minimal 8/7 margin, which is how it now stands.
Berry was jubilant about her sixth-place finish, since she conducted the last weeks of her campaign from her bed recovering from a serious knee injury. "This is the first time that I haven't spent election day running from poll to poll," she said Wednesday.
Unaligned Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who finished in first place, as he had done two years ago, said on Tuesday night on WVWI radio that he would align himself with whatever majority takes charge. He said he would "most definitely lobby for" chairing the powerful Finance Committee, so he could direct funding for education and health.
Berry sees no problem with that. "I am not seeking the Finance chair again," she said Wednesday. "I have done that for three terms, and that's enough." She said she wants to focus her energies on economic development. "There are many initiatives, 175 in fact, that came out of my economic summit that I want to concentrate on this term," she said.
She has several bills, including one to create a Bureau of Financial Services, that she wants to discuss with the administration before proposing them in the Senate. And she wants to move forward on creating a tourism authority, which Turnbull in his campaign speeches has said he would support.
Another concern of Berry's is her new understanding of needs of the physically challenged. "I have learned a lot about that these past weeks," she said.
Neither she nor David would comment on the Senate presidency, for which both have been rumored, but neither denied aspiring for the post. David said on Tuesday, "That is a rumor, you know; but all things are on the table." Berry was president of the 22nd Legislature; David hasn't held the post.
David said he is enormously pleased with the election of so many candidates from the Team 2002 Democratic slate and he sees cooperation ahead with Government House. "I've had a great relationship with the governor, and I think it's going to get better," he said. His focus for the 25th Legislature will be on the V.I. economy, education and crime — major problems mentioned by virtually every candidate, successful and unsuccessful.
David also said he is working on a plan to bring gasoline pump prices down on St. Thomas and St. John, a problem dear to the hearts of that district, where residents pay about 90 percent more than on St. Croix. "There is $5 million set aside in the GARVEE bonds to construct a gas storage facility on St. Thomas," he said. "This will be a big story."
The GARVEE — federal grant anticipation revenue — bonds have been issued mainly to finance the construction of the long-awaited Enighed Pond commercial port on St. John and the related Red Hook marine terminal on St. Thomas. David has been an unrelenting force behind getting the federally-backed bonds for the territory.
New face, new agenda
Malone, a former aide to Delegate Donna M. Christensen, expressed confidence Wednesday morning about getting the absentee votes he will need to retain his seventh-place finish in the St. Thomas-St. John district. "I feel I did a very good — I wouldn't say aggressive — job of addressing the absentee voters," he said. He said he sent a letter to them all explaining his agenda and seeking to distinguish himself from the other candidates.
That agenda calls for legislative reform and for visionary planning for the territory. "It's past time for crisis management, which is what we do," Malone said. "We have to stop just reacting to problems … We should be a group for the future — where are we going to be in 10 years?"
As a first-term senator, Malone said, he is anxious to do what no other lawmakers have done recently with any success. "We need governmental reform; we need to have a constitutional convention to restructure government. We are operating on an Organic Act that addressed the 19th and 20th centuries. We need to move into the 21st century," he said.
The young candidate, active in the Democratic Party from his high school days, said the Virgin Islands needs to be the English-speaking voice for the Caribbean. "We need to enhance our role in the Caribbean with Cuba coming in," he said. He sees the future of St. Croix as a technical and industrial center diversifying the territory from its tourism-dependent economy.
He also said he's committed to enactment of a comprehensive land and water use plan for the territory. This is a notion that has been around for decades, with countless senators making it a part of their campaigns. However, the territory still has no plan.
Calls to the other Democratic candidates were not returned Wednesday morning.
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