July 1, 2002 – Whispers could be heard through the crowd of some 300 curious St. Croix residents as they awaited the announcement by Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II on Sunday of his choice of running mate in his gubernatorial campaign. Many appeared taken by surprise to learn that it was Maryleen Thomas, his own director of the Division of Banking and Insurance in the Lieutenant Governor's Office.
Thomas said when James asked her to be his running mate, she replied that politics was not her interest and "I laughed and flatly told him no." But after she thought about the needs of the Virgin Islands, her adopted home, she decided to accept the challenge, she said as she also greeted the cheering crowd in her native French Creole patois.
Before unfurling a blue banner announcing Thomas as his running mate at the New Drive-In in Estate Grove Place, James outlined his accomplishments in public office and detailed his campaign platform. "In order for us to move ahead, we must be about helping, not hurting," he said. "This is just a beginning, a view of what is to come."
James, who served in the 20th and 21st Legislatures in 1993-96, cited among his accomplishments obtaining funding for Henry E. Rohlsen Airport and the molasses pier, introducing casino commission legislation and supporting fiber optic links to attract communications facilities to St. Croix.
He said he will announce by August whether the James-Thomas ticket will run under the Democratic Party banner or as an independent team.
As governor, James said, his goals will be to increase annual air passengers to 850,000 from 650,000 on St. Thomas and to 300,000 from 175,000 on St. Croix; to re-establish transatlantic flights from Denmark to St. Croix; to see Rohlsen Airport become a hub for airlines and cruise passengers and bring cruise ship homeporting to St. Croix; to see the return of Carnival Cruise Lines by the fall of 2003; to see 25 new cruise ships calling within the next three to four years; to develop the Bethlehem sugar factory; and to see growth in the hotel industry.
In addition, "Agriculture must again be a way of life," James said. Growing food in home gardens and in communities should become a practice again, he said, and farming should be included in the education curriculum. "This new attitude about agriculture will again retain money in our pockets," he said.
James said he opposes 13-year-old convicted criminals being transferred to adult correctional facilities, favors the Board of Education managing the public school system, favors making the hospitals autonomous and supports the creation of a private trauma and burn center. "A good health-care system is vital to quality of our lives," he said. He also said the Police Department needs to be revamped to become efficient and community friendly so that the community can see police officers as helping hands.
Thomas, who holds a law degree from the University of Florida, said her legal education and training along with three and a half years as director of the Banking and Insurance Division make her a viable candidate to run the Lieutenant Governor's Office. "I realize that there is a job to be done," she said.
A native St. Lucian who first came to the territory in 1980 to attend the then-College of the Virgin Islands, Thomas worked for a private firm on St. Thomas for eight years before joining the Lieutenant Governor's Office when the Turnbull administration came to power in1999. "I never met him [James] before, attended no fish fries or rallies," she said. But, she said, "I will not have to find my way around the office. I know it already."
She said she opposes the removal of the Banking and Insurance Division from the Lieutenant Governor's Office, as some current candidates for elective office advocate.
Speaking of the beauty of the diversity in the Virgin Islands, she said that when she first arrived, "I thought this must be what heaven is like. Truly the Virgin Islands are blessed. I am now a citizen of the United States of America. I made a choice. I am indeed a Virgin Islander."
James said his reason for challenging incumbent Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who chose him as running mate four years ago, is that "I'm fed up of the business-as-usual attitude." He added, "I have tried my best in carrying out my duties as lieutenant governor."
James had said on May 31, "Leaders are to lead, not squabble. Based on my principles, it was best to go our separate ways. We cannot allow the Virgin Islands to remain on the same course for the next four years."
On Sunday he said, "My lieutenant governor [Thomas] and I have fought many battles. I have not changed, but I have learned."
Thomas added, "We have both been sued by insurance agencies for doing our job, but we will continue."
"Nationality should not be an issue," Thomas said to cheers. "If you or a family member gets into an accident, do you take the time to ask where the EMT came from? I choose to live here in these Virgin Islands." She also apologized to friends and family for holding her "best-kept secret" of being tapped by her boss as his running mate close to her heart until Sunday's announcement.
While supporters cheered inside, others huddled outside in deep conversation. "This is a woman's election," one man said.
"It's about time," said an Antiguan native and 30-year St. Croix resident who did not wish to be named. "It's always a man who gives promises. She's great," the woman said as she hugged her son.
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