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V.I. Obama Backers Mix With Barack's New England Fans

Feb. 18, 2008 — What do chilly Massachusetts and the balmy Virgin Islands have in common? Not weather, and not electoral support for the same Democratic presidential candidate: Massachusetts went for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Virgin Islands went for Sen. Barack Obama.
But women from both locales now have joined forces behind Obama, launching the Massachusetts-U.S. Virgin Islands Women for Obama committee, whose kickoff event Sunday rallied some 75 to 100 people. They came together courtesy of a Virgin Islander who has spent the last 30 years in Boston, serves as the chairman of Massachusetts Women for Obama and is on Obama's New England steering committee.
Carol Nicholson Fulp lobbied hard to bring Obama to the territory in November and made some connections with local supporters, among them first lady Cecile deJongh and Julie Cassinelli, who went on to become co-chairs of the Virgin Islands Women for Obama organization. DeJongh and Cassinelli subsequently campaigned with Fulp in South Carolina, then Boston, inspiring them to link their two organizations.
Sunday's gathering was put together in 48 hours when Cassinelli discovered Fulp was on her way to St. Thomas for a brief rest.
"Carol was taking a little reprieve from her endless work up there, and I said, 'Look, while you're down here, should we try to do an event?'" Cassinelli said.
By the end of the night, the effort, which was open to men as well as women, raised more than $10,000 for Obama's campaign. "Not bad for an event pulled together mid-day Friday!" Cassinelli said afterwards.
The informational session and fundraiser was held at Cassinelli's home. In addition to her leadership role in the MA-USVI committee, she's the wife of Sebastiano Paiewonsky-Cassinelli, who serves on Obama's national finance committee and is the alternate Obama delegate from the Virgin Islands to the Democratic National Convention.
Seb Cassinelli described the Sunday gathering as "incredible… The people tonight attracted — it's just such a cross-section of our community and it's beautiful to see," he said. The crowd was not just racially mixed, but represented top-level government employees, prominent business leaders, attorneys, teachers, realtors, blue-collar workers and students, among others.
While Virgin Islanders cannot cast ballots in the presidential election, the MA-USVI Women for Obama committee said residents can still play a role. The audience was encouraged to help with email and telephone campaigning, especially heading into the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio.
"They’re not taking anything for granted," Seb Cassinelli told the audience as the evening concluded, about the Obama campaign. "They need money. And this is the point in our show today where (we) have to do the ask. Whether it’s $10 or whether it’s the maximum amount. We’d be most grateful, and it will be the fuel that gets Barack to the White House."
The financing of Obama's campaign, according to pollster Gordon Black, is a critical reason to consider supporting him. Black, the former CEO of Internet polling group Harris Interactive and now a Virgin Islands resident, was among the speakers.
Black called his appearance an "odd thing" given that he's a fiscal conservative addressing a sea of presumably liberal Democrats. But, he said, he's motivated by a Republican leadership whose recent years he described as "the most profligate and irresponsible in history." Black said Obama will break the cycle and replace it with accountability.
"One reason I cannot support Hillary Clinton is because Hillary Clinton took her entire campaign funding from the Washington establishment that buys in, in order to buy access to public policy," said Black.
"They also funded (Republican Sen. John) McCain's campaign. So you have two candidates funded by the American infrastructure that holds out their hand afterward and makes it impossible for a country to be fiscally solid, because you have to pay everyone off. Barack Obama is probably the first candidate in the history of America who has been funded almost entirely by grassroots support."
Donna Christensen, the Virgin Islands delegate to Congress and a Clinton supporter, later responded to Black's comments.
"No one can dispute that Obama's had a great email effort as part of his campaign," said Christensen, referencing the voluminous number of small donations he has elicited. "Hillary has also collected small amounts of money from across the country, from people who come from different walks of life.
"Most people raise their funds through PACS (political action committees) and things like that. I do," she continued. "That doesn't necessarily mean you're beholden to those people. I don’t take money from lobbyists, but I don’t think any candidate can say, including Obama, that they haven't had contributions from principals in the same company where they're not taking money from lobbyists."
Black also said that Democrats can fortify their party by supporting Obama. Polls show independents leaning towards Obama, who has generated strong support among youth. The last time a campaign significantly altered a party's make up was, according to Black, the Ronald Reagan campaign in 1984.
Other speakers Sunday included first lady Cecile deJongh, co-chair of the organization, who spoke to the audience by speakerphone from St. Croix.
"Obama inspiring me was one thing, and inspiring John is another," she said, referring to her husband, Gov. John deJongh Jr. "But he's also inspiring our children, who even for their father's campaign were pretty much uninspired," she said, drawing laughter from the crowd. "For someone to come along and inspire the next generation is a wonderful thing, and that person really is Barack Obama."
Attorney Simone Francis attended Harvard Law School with Obama and worked with him when he was president of the Harvard Law Review — the first African-American to hold the position. "I’ve followed the senator’s progress since 1991, and it's been absolutely phenomenal and incredible to say I’ve walked the same halls with him," Francis said.
Fellow attorney Marjorie Roberts, who is also on Obama's national finance committee, urged the audience to do as she did recently when she got out her law school directory and began emailing alums to support Obama.
Clearly, the speakers were preaching to the converted Sunday.
"I think 100 years from now, this campaign will go down in the history books as having been a pivotal point in American history," said Willie Wilson, who teaches literature and history at Antilles School. "He's going to win."
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