Less than a month out from Polling Day, candidates have been ramping up efforts to secure voters’ support by holding launches, speaking one-on-one with voters, and slinging accusations of dishonesty and “political wickedness.”
Over the past week, the Virgin Islands Party held four candidate launches, the National Democratic Party held two, and the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement held a District Three rally to promote its at-large candidates.
The territory’s fourth party — Progressives United — also finally entered the race, with party leader and District Three incumbent Julian Fraser promising to launch his campaign at 7 p.m. on April 1 in Sea Cows Bay.
“I have proven to have been your best choice to lead your district through disasters, so don’t give up on me,” he said in a social media broadcast that also touted his 24 years of service as the District Three representative.
The party, however, has not yet announced any other candidates.
Though none of the nine independent candidates hosted a public launch over the past week, several of them have also been campaigning by circulating videos, visiting voters, hanging posters and otherwise attempting to drum up support.
During four VIP rallies over the past week, the party touted a mix of incumbent and challenger candidates, including Alvera Maduro-Caines, Vincent Wheatley, Allen Wheatley and Kevin “OJ” Smith.
VIP members campaigned heavily on the party’s navigation of the past years’ challenges and the recovery from the 2017 hurricanes.
On March 23 by Red Bay in East End, Allen Wheatley launched his campaign to unseat District Eight incumbent and NDP Chairman Marlon Penn. He highlighted his community ties and his work to bolster the young people in the district.
If elected, he promised, he would help address the “constitutional crisis” the territory faces, noting that an election wouldn’t be taking place if the United Kingdom had suspended parts of the Constitution as recommended by the Commission of Inquiry.
He also pledged to work with ministers on their portfolios, expressing his appreciation for the behind-the-scenes planning being done by Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie de Castro.
His supporters, including VIP at-large candidate Neville Smith, briefly touched on Mr. Wheatley’s time served in prison in the 2000s. They claimed that although he had stumbled, he’d had the courage to rise again and serve his community.
Mr. Wheatley also highlighted his connections to the world of sports and earned the endorsement of his cousin, sports reporter Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway.
Vincent Wheatley, the VIP’s District Nine incumbent, held his launch on March 25 in Virgin Gorda. He faces former VIP member Shereen Flax-Charles, who joined the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement at the start of the campaign season, as well as NDP candidate Coy Levons and independent candidate Vernon Vanterpool.
Mr. Wheatley dedicated his launch to his mother, whom he said his family buried two weeks earlier. He recalled that she served as his campaign partner on the road in 2019 and was sorely missed this time.
He also touted his efforts to improve the infrastructure of the district, especially after Hurricane Irma.
“We went from near total destruction to number eight on the Forbes list of places to visit in 2023,” he said.
He acknowledged that the Nurse Iris O’Neal Medical Clinic in VG has sat largely empty after it was purported to be ready for occupancy. However, he claimed that significant improvements were made under his watch, and that much more is to come.
Mr. Wheatley also celebrated recent work on schools including the Bregado Flax Educational Centre. He claimed it was only bureaucratic red tape that stymied his efforts to secure land and funding for a new BFEC building.
“Delayed, but not denied,” he said. “This project cannot be stopped, not as long as I have life in my body.”
Last March, when he was serving as minister of natural resources and labour, Mr. Wheatley had announced that Cabinet approved a land exchange to facilitate a new building that would allow the BFEC primary division to be separated from the secondary division.
On March 26, the VIP launched three-term incumbent Alvera Maduro-Caines, who is going up against NDP candidate Myron Walwyn in the race for District Six.
Spurred on by pom-pom-waving cheerleaders and video messages from supportive community members, Ms. Maduro-Caines hosted a rally in Baughers Bay.
Last time around, Ms. Maduro-Caines campaigned with the NDP before crossing the aisle and joining the VIP under then-Premier Andrew Fahie’s administration in early 2020. Current Premier and District Seven candidate Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said on March 26 that she “fits perfectly” with his party.
Ms. Maduro-Caines threw a few jabs at her former party, accusing members of repeatedly putting the development of the Omar Hodge Fishermen’s Wharf and Park — where she held her launch — on the backburner.
“My eyes were opened,” she said. “I realised that before, there was a lack of political will that stunted the growth of this district. Now, with VIP, I can say there is a team that is focused to deliver for the needs of the people.”
She also shared her excitement for the party’s four-year development plan, which she said focuses on issues like unemployment and small-business development.
Kevin “OJ” Smith’s Third District launch in Sea Cows Bay was scheduled for the evening of March 29, after the Beacon’s deadline.
Retirement act ‘fib’
The premier took the opportunity during Allen Wheatley’s launch to address the “throwing of stones in glass houses” at the onset of the election season.
He was particularly critical of Mr. Walwyn, who recently described House of Assembly members’ 2021 decision to increase their own retirement benefits as political “wickedness.” Dr. Wheatley claimed that Mr. Walwyn, a former legislator, was one of the first to benefit from the passage of the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Act 2021, saying he received calls from Mr. Walwyn to see whether Cabinet gave approval.
He added that Mr. Walwyn took home $276,274.50 and would be paid an additional $5,525.50 monthly for the rest of his life.
The premier also accused Mr. Penn of “fibbing” about being voted down on the bill, and he noted that NDP member Mark Vanterpool — who said he is not seeking re-election — seconded the bill.
“The only time when Honourable Marlon Penn ran to the public and said he was going to repeal it is after he discovered that repealing it will not affect his pocket, because he made sure. He got legal advice on it,” Dr. Wheatley said.
The premier added that he plans to repeal the act if elected.
Legislators passed the bill in May 2021, suspending protocol to expedite it through the HOA in one sitting. They did not debate it at length before passing it unanimously, but then-Premier Mr. Fahie later defended it in a press conference by arguing that legislators’ salaries are too low.
The act stipulates that lawmakers who serve one or two full terms will be paid two years’ salary upon leaving office; those who serve three or four full consecutive terms will get three years’ salary; and those who serve five or more terms will receive four years’ salary.
The act defines “salary” as the maximum amount they were paid while serving, including all allowances and emoluments.
The post-term salary comes in addition to a retirement allowance currently provided for life to any former legislator age 50 and over who has served at least five years. Under the original 1980 law, that monthly allowance is calculated as two-thirds of the maximum monthly salary paid to them while they served.
Dr. Wheatley also accused Mr. Penn of misrepresenting the NDP’s support for the Recovery and Development Agency, and he criticised NDP at-large candidate Allen O’Neal’s characterisation of him as an “accidental premier.”
Mr. Penn said on March 24 at a candidate launch that the party would continue to run an “issues-focused, solutions-focused campaign.”
The NDP launched two of its candidates this week: Aaron Parillon for District Three and Coy Levons for District Nine.
During Mr. Levon’s rally on March 24 at The Valley, Virgin Gorda, party leader Mr. Penn celebrated the NDP District Nine candidate for being “one of the most anticipated politicians in an election cycle that I’ve seen in a long time.”
Mr. Levons — the first NDP candidate to hold his individual campaign launch — said community members on the sister islands have told him they are tired of empty promises and hollow public appearances.
Meeting basic needs like consistent medical care is a must for the community, he said, promising to deliver if elected.
“We need to ensure that the health-care providers are supported with the resources to do their jobs. You can’t have the Iris O’Neal Clinic looking nice on the hill and don’t have the facilities in place to take care of the people that are living in the country,” he said to a cacophony of horns blowing and people cheering. “It’s craziness, this is.”
Mr. Levons also spoke about a need for at-home senior services, shorter transportation times for emergency services, on-island dialysis treatments, an established district council, a consistent water supply, and better support for fishing and farming. He has served as the BVI Ports Authority acting managing director and the Department of Civil Aviation director.
Sea Cows Bay
The next day, the VIP launched Mr. Parillon in Sea Cows Bay.
Mr. Parillon is facing the incumbent Mr. Fraser in the race for District Three, as well as Kevin “OJ” Smith from the VIP.
Before he took the stage on March 25, his mother welcomed the audience with her rendition of the territorial song.
The candidate then thanked the community members who helped raise him, teaching him humbleness as he grew up with only one parent. Now, he said he is working to give back as a representative. He highlighted his commitment to road maintenance, creating a District Three-based assistance programme for vulnerable people, resolving issues with the Ellis Thomas Downs horse racing track, enhancing sports tourism, and removing derelict vessels, among others.
“There are those who will tell you they are well seasoned and I am fresh,” he said. “But from your experience, you need a little freshness in your life.”
Mr. Penn said he is proud of the VIP team’s balance of senior experience and youthful energy, and he commended Mr. Parillon for his tenacity when running in the 2019 election and for his work to improve the community.
“District Three, you have a fighter,” he said. “Aaron is one of those persons where once you give him a chance, he’s going to be committed to the task ahead, and he is not going to fail you.”
He added that the NDP’s recent touring of various districts has helped members better understand the daily challenges facing residents. He said community members have been vocal about the need for adequate social security benefits and support for senior citizens.
The party also organised several media appearances and meet-ups, including NDP at-large candidate Lorna Smith’s on March 26 in Cane Garden Bay.
PVIM in D-3
Though the PVIM doesn’t currently have a District Three candidate on its roster, the party held a rally in Sea Cows Bay on March 28 featuring its four atlarge candidates. Shaina SmithArcher, Stacy “Buddha” Mather, Ingrid Moses-Scatliffe and PVIM Chairman Ronnie Skelton each stepped up to the microphone to detail their plans for the infrastructure and social development of the VI in the long term.
“As an engineer by education and a project manager by profession over the past 20 years, I have spent my career building things, solving problems, and working with diverse teams from all walks of life to achieve common goals for stakeholders within our Virgin Islands,” Ms. Smith-Archer said, pledging to address longstanding infrastructure issues.
Her areas of particular focus include substantive road repairs and efficient public services, she said.
Mr. Mather, who said he has lived in District Three and previously taught at Ebenezer Thomas Primary School, was critical of inefficient government spending that he said hasn’t adequately benefited the community.
Among many issues facing the district, he spoke of the need to fix the “national disaster” of the Pockwood Pond landfill and to repair water delivery systems.
Ms. Moses-Scatliffe touched on ongoing issues in schools and called for greater compassion from elected officials in addressing economic issues facing residents. She also called for shelters to assist people experiencing homelessness, staffed with counsellors who can provide needed support.
Mr. Skelton said the territory is in “crisis” and appealed to District Three voters to help the PVIM secure the majority in the HOA.
He also focused on the needs of single-parent families in raising their children, stating that courts need to ensure child support payments are made in a timely manner.
He called for greater support of students with special needs.
“We’ve seen the heights to which our young people can go if they are invested in,” he said. “I want to make sure that every child in the Virgin Islands gets an opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their social and economic background.”
The party focused much of its other efforts over the past week on putting boots on the ground to campaign in Road Town and on the sister islands. PVIM members toured the capital to meet with residents on March 24, and they travelled to Anegada over the weekend.
All the parties are planning campaign events in the coming weeks.