May 29, 2003 - A day before the federal building on St. Thomas was to be named in his honor, former V.I. Delegate Ron de Lugo pondered the process that brought him -- and the building -- to this juncture.
"Our delegate introduced legislation and got it though the House, through the Senate," he said, referring to Donna M. Christensen, who now holds the seat in Congress that was his for so many years. She found support among "many, many of my friends whom I had the honor of serving with during my 20 years in the House of Representatives," he added.
"It passed the House and the Senate to President Bush. President Bush signed it into law, and that's how you get a federal building named after you," he said.
But as de Lugo reminisced about his 40 years of public service in elected office -- first locally, then in Washington -- he admitted the route had been much longer than that. When he first went to the nation's capital in 1969, his title was "representative to Congress." He had no congressional office, and his duties were more like those of a lobbyist than a lawmaker. Folks back home thought that once he went to Washington, they'd never see de Lugo again.
"Part of the plan was just to get me out of the territory, get me out of politics, eventually, because they figured, 'Out of sight, out of mind,' and 'You're not going to get home enough,'" he recounted.
"Well, I did get home. I came home on a regular basis. I served two terms as Washington representative; then I was able to get legislation passed by the House of Representatives giving a seat in the Congress to the people of the Virgin Islands. So I ran for that, and I was elected to it in 1972 and seated in January 1973," he said.
Re-elected regularly every two years, except in 1978 when he chose instead to run -- unsuccessfully -- for governor, de Lugo spent much of the next two decades winning friends and allies among Washington Democrats, of which he was one, and among Republicans, too. Eventually he parlayed his seniority and the goodwill of his colleagues into an appointment on the House Subcommittee on Interior and Insular Affairs.
"In that position I had tremendous power because we controlled the Congress," he said. "I was on very good terms with the Speaker and with the Majority Leader and key chairmen. I was in a unique position."
As a newcomer to Washington, de Lugo said, he understood well that he came to the position with no political clout. His goal was to get some. "I understood how to fight for it," he said. "I understood how to stand up and take on the Interior Department, for instance, or other federal agencies when it was necessary. I didn't go and take them on just to have a fight but I certainly took them on when I felt the interest of the territories was not being served."
Nine years after retiring from public life, he says the demands of the office of delegate remain challenging -- which he adds is how it ought to be when politicians are working toward any worthwhile goal. His original objective as delegate, to wield power on behalf of the folks back home, is no different for the person in that position today, he said.
In fact, he said, Christensen, now in her fourth term as delegate, "has a serious handicap in that the Congress as it is constituted at the present time is not -- nor is the administration, in my judgment -- giving the kind of attention to the territories that we demanded back then and got because the situation was different. It is a different time. It's much tougher to do anything for the territories," he said.
For a list of his accomplishments as delegate, see "Federal building to be named for de Lugo"."
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much -- and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice ... click here.