Parties have dominated Virgin Islands politics for the past quarter century, but this year 10 independent candidates have opted to go their own way.
Their numbers are higher than in the last election: Two independents ran for office in 2019, down from eight in 2015 and 13 in 2011. Like party candidates, the independents have been holding rallies across the territory in recent weeks to share their opinions, plans and hopes for the future. But just because they are running independent doesn’t mean they are doing it alone.
Candidates including Second District hopeful Troy Christopher and at-large contender Ishmael Brathwaite have floated the idea of collaborating or even forming a coalition.
“I’ve chosen to run independently because at this time in our history, it’s very important for all parties, individuals, to work together,” Mr. Christopher said.
Earlier this month, Mr. Brathwaite appeared at a rally alongside fellow at-large independents Karen Vanterpool and Daniel Fligelstone-Davies and said he was running not with a party but with the “Patriotic Citizens Movement” — a group that he anticipated would ultimately include a coalition of any successful independent candidates.
To get elected, though, they have their work cut out for them. Since a two-party system became entrenched in the VI in 1999, independents haven’t fared well at the polls.
In fact, only one — Alvin Christopher, who held the Second District seat from 1995-2015 — has managed to win a seat in the past quarter century.
In the 2019 election, the political system was shaken after splits in the Virgin Islands Party and the National Democratic Party led to the creation of two new parties.
But even though the two independents who ran that year — Dancia Penn at large and incumbent Dr. Kedrick Pickering in the Seventh — were both former deputy premiers, neither won a seat.
Half and half
This year, none of the ten independents has held political office before.
Five are running for district seats, five for at-large seats.
Chad George is up against the VIP’s Dr. Karl Dawson and the Progressive VI Movement’s Sylvia Romney-Moses for the First District seat, which has remained vacant since former Premier Andrew Fahie resigned from the House of Assembly last November.
Troy Christopher is running against incumbent Melvin “Mitch” Turnbull (PVIM) and Marieta Flax-Headley (VIP) in the Second.
In the Fourth, Rosita Scatliffe-Thompson is running against Ian Smith (PVIM), Luce Hodge-Smith (VIP) and Sandy Harrigan-Underhill (NDP).
Perline Scatliffe-Leonard will aim to dethrone Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley (VIP) in the Seventh District, while Vernon Vanterpool will attempt to take the seat from VIP incumbent Vincent Wheatley in the Ninth.
Mitsy-Ellis Simpson and Lesmore Smith join Mr. Brathwaite, Mr. Fligelstone-Davies and Ms. Vanterpool in running for at-large seats.
The candidates’ goals range widely.
Mr. George voiced concerns over smoke from the incinerator, water troubles, the delayed West End ferry terminal, and other issues. If elected, he promised to host regular district meetings to go over “all of the issues that are affecting the district.”
“There might be some stuff that are probably on the least important scale that can be knocked out quickly,” he told the Beacon last week.
“So we will still have to look at those so that they can also be done, you know, within the first 100 days as well.”
Mr. Christopher detailed various plans, including reopening two community centres that are currently closed in the Second District.
“Both community centres housed clinics, which is very important for the district itself,” he told the Beacon. “It is also a place where the elderly would go to do craft and meet each other. … It is also a place that can be used, and I intend to use it fully, for youth activities as well.”
Mr. Vanterpool, an Anegada fisherman, said education, health and land are among his areas of main concern.
Lesmore Smith said his campaign points include security, agriculture, senior care, youth empowerment and development, sports tourism, health services, and economics.
He added that he is happy to work with a team.
“I would love to ensure that I approach [my key points] wisely, and I know it is going to take some time to put together,” he said.
‘About my constituents’
Both Mses. Scatliffe-Thompson and Scatliffe-Leonard addressed social issues when they spoke to the Beacon, stating that the elderly are not being properly attended.
“It’s entirely about my constituents,” Ms. Scatliffe-Thompson said. “They’ve been neglected and ignored for far too long. There have been injustices imposed upon them, and I truly believe that they need to be more respected.”
Ms. Scatliffe-Leonard said that she supports the elderly and the youths, and that she hopes to revitalise the beautification of the Seventh District.
“We don’t need a government to tell us how to keep our place,” she said. “We need each other, and for you to need each other you have to have a leader who could bring people together. And that’s lacking.”
Ms. Vanterpool said she hopes to raise the standard of living across the territory by changing the tax system to ensure that “millions and millions of dollars” aren’t going out of the Treasury.
“It’s not reaching to the persons that need that money,” she explained. “And that’s one of the things I would love to change.”
She went on to say that lower income households are “feeling the brunt of inflation” and that high-income families should contribute more in taxes.
Mr. Fligelstone-Davies said that he would work to hold other representatives accountable to ensure that work gets done.
He also pledged to ensure that “people are back involved in the governance” of the territory, and that there are opportunities for the youth, seniors and differently-abled people.