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Cruz Bay
Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Whether riding a donkey in the Hapless Hopeless Caroliers, patrolling St. John on a bicycle, sounding off on the Senate floor or the stage at Lionel Roberts Stadium, Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. has been ever the showman.
The former police chief and sixth-term senator leaves no doubt about where he stands on frequently controversial issues. He is adamant about the Senate remaining at 15, an unpopular position among several of his colleagues. A reduction of the Senate from 15 to nine was overwhelmingly mandated in a referendum in last November's election.
"I didn't say we need more; I said we need at least 15 and there should be five at-large senators," White states. He says the people weren't thoroughly educated on the referendum. "No, I don't think numbered seats or sub-districting would work; we need the at-large seats to properly represent all the islands."
White is now serving his second term as majority leader, having held the post in the 21st Legislature. He declined to comment on the progress of the 24th Legislature's "Millenium Eight" majority, as they have dubbed themselves, because he didn't want to preempt his "first 100 days" address, scheduled for mid-April.
Before he turned to politics, White spent 20 years in the Virgin Islands Police Department, holding every rank from patrolman to chief of police. "I knew law enforcement was what I wanted when I got out of high school in 1965, " White, the son of a V.I. police officer, says. "And I haven't stopped moving since."
White served four years in the Air Force and was in Vietnam during the Tet offensive. "It was rough; I learned a lot about survival." He pauses, reflecting: "I lost two classmates over there, guys I graduated with."
After Vietnam, White was asked where he would like to be stationed, and he said New York, Detroit, or the East Coast. "They sent me to North Dakota," White laughs. "Then I really wanted to come home."
Losing no time, he had a police job waiting for him when he got back to St. Thomas. The more White reflects, the more it seems as though the police is where his heart still remains. Smartly dressed in a crisp yellow cotton shirt and matching tie, the senator leans back in his comfortable chair, "Yes, I might do things differently if I were in charge today."
"I'm very community-oriented. The police need more equipment, more tools to work with. I would approach organizations — Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce — with a strong push. I used to have the Friends of the Police organization to raise money in the private sector," White says.
Then, really warming to his topic, he says, "Remember the traffic patrols, when I'd go around in the chopper monitoring traffic? And I did lots of things with traffic, like the one-way streets we still have at different times of day."
White has received several awards in his law enforcement career and specialized traffic training at several mainland universities and the U.S. Secret Service. "That was my favorite," White says, but doesn't reveal what he learned there. "It's all inside," he says.
With a big smile, he recalls when he was "punished." After he supported Bryan in his unsuccessful run for governor, White was demoted from police chief by Gov. Alexander Farrelly and sent to St. John as a captain. "I got a bicycle, and began patrolling St. John on it," he laughs. "But it brought me high visibility. It gave me an opportunity to talk with people and let them get to know me. And then the kids would follow me around on their bikes after school was out."
"There were those who would look with scorn on the big clown riding around on a bike, but it worked," White says. "Look at how many bike patrols we have downtown here today."
It was the suggestion of retired Judge Verne Hodge that led White to politics. "Judge Hodge was my mentor in calypso, and then when I retired from the police he said I had another calling, and Farrelly agreed, too." Politics, that is, not calypso.
White's political career has far eclipsed his calypso callings. "Hodge wrote the lyrics for me, and I couldn't ever remember all of them, so I got the stage name, 'Start Over.' They used to wage bets on whether I'd remember the lyrics," he says.
White recalled one time when the audience threw tomatoes at him. "I didn't mind," he says, "but they were in cans!"
"They just wanted me to get off the stage."
Nobody on the Senate floor throws tomatoes, except perhaps verbally, but White is a formidable opponent who managed to get a remarkable amount of housing legislation passed in his five years as chairman of the Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee, which he chairs again in the 24th Legislature.
"My proudest accomplishment is the Affordable Housing Act of 1989," White says. The act laid the financial groundwork and made it possible for lower- and middle-income families to acquire land from the government.
A staunch defender of public housing residents' rights, White grew up in Paul M. Pearson Gardens. He was on the Senate floor Wednesday night declaring that housing managers were "toothless tigers" without the equipment to properly administer the projects.
He also stated his strong opposition to any attempt by the V. I. Housing Authority to sell the property where the just-demolished Warren E. Brown apartments were located to a private investor. He will introduce legislation that the property be designated for home ownership programs.
White also has plans for legislation to create a 50/50 land swap plan which would give retroactive wages back to government employees. "Say the government has a plot of land valued at $15,000, and they owe you $10,000 in retro — that could be taken off and you'd have the land for $5,000," he explains.
How about if the person didn't want the land or wanted another area? "The government owns acres and acres of land on St. Thomas and St. Croix; people could choose."
White says he suggested a similar plan during the Farrelly administration which Farrelly said was good in intent, but would create a "bookkeeping nightmare."
Going back to his unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1998, White leans back, looking suddenly solemn and switching into the third person: "People felt they weren't seeing the real Celestino White as the norm." He continues, "I was close to Governor Schneider; we're still close. I don't regret being close; I'd do it again."
He says Schnieder's abilities to get things done were "outstanding," though he admits "some saw it a different way." But he brightens up with a grin, "Oh well, people have the right to be wrong." And, he adds, "Celestino White was number two this time."
White owns the popular "Rumors Bar and Grill" in Tutu. As a policeman and a bar owner, how does he feel about young people drinking? "It begins at home. You can't do the 'don't do as I do; do as I say' thing," White says, "You have to show by example. You have to teach them not to do anything that doesn't enhance the body."
White's office is spacious, the walls decorated with various law enforcement awards, a picture of his grandchildren, and unique awards from the Hapless Hopeless Caroliers, of whom White is the undisputed star.
White is the father of four children, Colette, Celestino Jr., Clement and Calvert. He is married to the former Ruthlyn V. Archibald.

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