Sept. 9, 2006 – The gubernatorial team of John deJongh and Gregory R. Francis ran with the popular vote to claim a decisive victory in what Elections officials said was a record setting turnout for a primary election.
The deJongh/Francis team, which won on a 2 to 1 vote in various straw polls leading up to the primary, did it for real on Saturday with 7,041 or 52 percent of the votes compared to the 3,894 or 29 percent of votes garnered by the current Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards and his running mate, Roy D. Jackson.
At 9:08 p.m., speaking on Radio One, Democratic Party stalwart James O'Bryan Jr. called deJongh and Francis as the winners of the gubernatorial primary race, about 20 minutes before the Elections Office released its final results.
The results are "unofficial" until all votes, including absentee ballots and walk-ins, are counted, according to Supervisor of Elections John Abramson.
The other gubernatorial candidate in Saturday's primary was retired Judge Edgar D. Ross and his running mate Sen. Lorraine L. Berry. The team placed last with 2,524 votes or 19 percent. There were nine write-in votes.
On Saturday, nearly two hours after the results were in, deJongh and Francis were heralded to their headquarters in Sion Farm by police escorts with blasting sirens. The two stood waving from an uncovered Jeep Wrangler, with their wives, Cecile deJongh and Cheryl Francis, sitting in the rear, but the vehicle only got within a few yards of the entrance to the parking lot before it was ringed by supporters.
The men leaned out of the open space pressing a sea of hands held out in congratulatory handshakes. There were hugs and kisses, and some supporters attempted to climb into the Jeep for better access. Their wives were also greeted before all four were escorted to an area to address supporters.
The speeches were delayed a bit as the four found themselves pulled into a version of Allison Hinds "Roll it Gal" changing the words to "Roll it John" to fit the occasion.
Before that supporters had convened an impromptu parade waving the campaign posters they'd used at polling sites earlier that day before breaking into a victory dance of the electric slide.
Malcolm McGregor and Fernando Webster Sr., both chairmen for the deJongh-Francis St. Croix District Committee, urged supporters early on to take the victory in stride and "not to gloat."
"The race is not yet over," Webster cautioned. "The race has just begun. Please do not go out there and turn people off. Make it your job to embrace fellow Democrats. We need every vote."
O'Bryan said in his radio conversation that Saturday's victory speaks to" deJongh's ability to unify the party." O'Bryan said that should also help solidify the senatorial race for the Democrats.
When asked about his gubernatorial primary win, DeJongh said "our message resonated." He noted that winning the primary was only the first hurdle. "Tomorrow we have to get up and start another campaign."
When asked by Sam Topp on WTJX Channel 12 which team of independent candidates [Kenneth Mapp and Almando 'Rocky' Liburd, or Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Dr. Cora Christian] he thought would give him the greatest challenge in the race, deJongh steered away from discussing personalieties saying he intended to "stay on message" during the campaign.
Francis, reached at his home prior to descending at the St. Croix headquarters with deJongh, said it felt "good to know that John and I received the endorsement of the Democratic members in the primary" and said "we're looking forward to embracing everyone – Republicans, Independent Citizens Movement, Independents and Democrats."
He was savoring the victory, he said, but was already focused on the next hurdle – November's general election.
"John and I want to bring the Virgin Islands back to how it used to be – an open and respectable government for all and not just a few."
His wife, Cheryl Francis, said that their children, who are abroad, called to congratulate their father.
"They are so happy for him," she said. "This is just overwhelming.
DeJongh and Francis both thanked supporters, whom they praised for their hard work.
At the Sion Farm headquarters the crowed erupted in glee when Francis introduced deJongh as "the next governor" and referred to him as the Honorable John deJongh.
DeJongh also had praise for his running mate.
"The reason we were able to do this is because I picked a running mate St. Croix believed in and I believed in more," he said.
Richards did not return a call to the Source, and was subdued when speaking on Radio One. When asked if, as a committed Democrat, he would support the winning team, he said, "Absolutely," but did not further elaborate his position.
Ross said he was puzzled by the outcome.
"I am surprised," he said. "I thought we'd do much better. I haven't looked at the votes and where they came from. The only thing I can say is the charge that Lorraine [Berry] and I were not true to the Democrats may have taken its toll, since I became a Democrat recently."
Ross said, "I would not do anything differently. Those I spoke to praised me on my appearance and my presentation and the type of campaign that I ran."
He said , "I thought that the Democrats that had been locked out of the party would rebel, but they didn't – that's the 70 percent that never participated in the primaries. I was appealing to those who had never participated."
He indicated there won't be a future run for office.
"I said I was retiring when I stepped down from the bench. I'm going to stay retired," he said.
Abramson said Saturday that though the absentee votes have yet to be counted, the fact that more than 13,000 people voted in Saturday's primary was a first.
"It could be a record-breaking election in terms of numbers," Abramson said. "Using simple math – with some 13,000 of 31,615 registered Democrats voting – that's 40 to 45 percent, almost half. Traditionally, we just have 15 to 25 percent voting."
From the onset, the deJongh/Francis team led voting results on Saturday and widened their lead as the hours ticked by.
"Victory is near," supporter Netty Wallace said at Elections Headquarters on St. Croix before the final votes were tallied.
Radiance Roebuck, another supporter, was ecstatic with the results, which were being updated on one of two computer screens set up inside the Elections Office.
"I'm on cloud nine," she said after it was clear, with 60 of the 91 precincts reporting, that her team had a huge enough lead to sail to victory. "I'm in heaven."
There was a brief scare after Election Board members, whose collaborative work was carried via live TV set up outside of the Elections Office, said that the voting cartridge from Lew Muckle Elementary School was "blank."
Abramson said that voting results could be read off the tape manually.
Supporter Steve Nisky said, "I feel like St. Croix not only turned out for John deJongh but for Greg Francis because he's our man," Nisky said. "I think all of the islands realized we had a breath of fresh air and a government that's going to work in the daytime, not in the late of night."
Justine LeStrade, who was also at the headquarters, was initially at a loss for words.
"It's just good. Good. Good. We're on to a new beginning with deJongh/Francis and 'Together We Can, '" he said reciting the team's campaign slogan.
DeJongh joked with supporters to go spend time with their families on Sunday "because come Monday you won't see them until after the November election."
"I have to tell you, this feels good," he said to roars of appreciation. &q
uot;After 12 months of walking from Frederiksted to Christiansted and in between, this feels good.
DeJongh and Francis took their campaign door-to-door on a weekly basis and Francis said that they were met with very few people who were not in their corner.
It is that kind of support that they hope to bank all the way through the November elections.
"Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards and Judge Edgar Ross ran a fantastic campaign and we will reach out to them," deJongh said, a message that Francis had earlier shared with supporters. "It's very important that Vargrave Richards and Edgar Ross, Roy Jackson and Lorraine Berry, be with us. In order to do it, we've got to have everybody behind us. We want a unified Democratic Party."
Molly Morris contributed to this story.
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