Home News Local news PROTESTERS, PREACHER SEND POLITICAL MESSAGES

PROTESTERS, PREACHER SEND POLITICAL MESSAGES

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Jan. 7, 2003 – Protesters waving placards opposing the controversial salary increases approved for the territory's top elected officials greeted Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards on Tuesday as they made their way to the Battery for St. John's community inaugural reception.
Unlike Monday's demonstrations at the swearing-in ceremony on St. Thomas, which erupted into violence, St. John's protest was low key — until resident Pam Gaffin confronted Sen. Roosevelt David over the bill the 24th Legislature approved giving Turnbull, Richards and the territory's 15 senators huge raises.
"You just get out of my face!" David said, storming off toward the Battery.
In response to Gaffin's allegations, David also denied that he was driving one of the sports utility vehicles ordered for the senators, another issue that surfaced several times last year.
Gaffin had the last word, as she shouted at the retreating David, "Didn't you vote for a raise for yourself for $20,000?"
She was one of about a dozen placard-carrying people who stationed themselves near the Battery driveway to greet the official entourage as it arrived for the public reception. The protesters were all Caucasians originally from the mainland who now reside on St. John, most of them self-employed, while most of Monday's demonstrators were union members employed by the government.
The protesters initially stationed themselves near the Battery gates, but police officers made them move a couple of yards back to a sidewalk adjacent to the public parking lot.
Lonnie Willis said that while elected officials are supposed to be public servants, instead they are lining their pockets.
Lee Stanciauskas, holding a sign that read "We the people will be heard," said she was upset that the raises came on the heels of news about extensive poverty among children and the territory's infrastructure problems.
A part-time private school teacher who would give her name only as Randy said if the Turnbull administration officials cared about education, they would not have closed the St. John schools for the day.
Meanwhile, chicken wings, cantaloupe slices and more were being served in two buffet lines at the Battery. Turnbull and Richards were ensconced at a table while a hundred or so people enjoyed the festivities.
While most said they were there to support the governor, a few spoke about the community outrage that has followed the approval of the raises.
"Civil unrest has already started," Iris Kern, director of the Safety Zone, said.
She said it is tragic that Turnbull is getting off to such a poor start for his second — and final — term in office, but added that it was appropriate to wish the governor well. "He needs all the help he can get," she said.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, who voted for the raises, was uncharacteristically mum when asked what he thought about the protests. "I saw some people with some signs waving, but I was traveling fast," he said.
St. John businessman and former senator Robert O'Connor Jr. said he is optimistic that Turnbull and Richards will work well together, an indirect reference to the fact that Turnbull and his previous lieutenant governor, Gerard Luz James II, had an antagonistic relationship.
Reminiscing, O'Connor said that Turnbull was his ninth-grade teacher. "I remember the governor pulling my ear," he said. And, he said, when you came from St. John, you were held to a higher standard of behavior.
O'Connor and others said that seeing old friends was one of the nicest parts of the day.
"It's great to see them outside of a funeral," added another former senator, Cleone Creque, who owns a funeral home on St. Thomas.
Preaching to the politicians
Earlier Tuesday, at an ecumenical worship service that also was part of the St. John inaugural celebrations, a bit of a buzz flew around St. Ursula's Anglican Church as the Rev. Hugh Chapman alluded time and again to the territory's political issues during his sermon.
"He's caught all the nuances," said one St. John resident, nothing that Chapman has only served at St. Ursula's for a year and a half.
Chapman began by urging Turnbull and Richards, who were sitting in front pews, to do the people's business. "We draw on those deserving of trust, and when that trust is violated, we replace them with others we can better trust," Chapman told the 150 or so people gathered at the church.
He did not specifically mention the controversial raises. However, after the service he said he had "heard" the raises were ill timed. "I'm hoping to push them in the right direction," he said.
During the sermon, Chapman also said that the political culture gives the lion's share to the winner and rewards friends. And he called on the new administration to bring together the territory's diverse population. "Our society is much too poor for us to Balkanize it," he said.
If schools are short of supplies or seniors are having difficulties, no one should sleep well, he said. And he said the territory's people are demanding a bigger share of the pie.
While the sermon was the centerpiece, the service also included performances by several church youth groups. St. Ursula's Liturgical Dancers, clad in black and gold, offered up prayers with interpretive dance. A youth choir from St. John Methodist Church sang and swayed their way through several songs. An adult singing group, N'Harmony, also performed.
During the sharing of the peace during the service, people roamed up and down the aisles greeting old friends and making new ones as they wished each other peace and prosperity.
Members of the clergy from most St. John churches took turns offering blessings, including one bestowed by the Rev. Bonnie Byron of St. John Methodist Church on Turnbull. "Fight for all the people of the territory, not just a privileged few," she urged the governor.
Turnbull, wearing a red tie with his dark suit and a red rose on his lapel, said that answers for all leaders are found in the Bible. "Prayer works," he said to amens from those in the church.

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