Six Democratic Party primary candidates for St. Croix’s seven Senate seats in the November election partook in a question and answer forum Monday night at Christiansted’s Club Comanche.
Put on in a collaborative effort between numerous organizations, including the V.I. Democratic Party for St. Croix, Our Town Frederiksted and the Christiansted Restaurant and Retailer’s Association, the purpose of the nearly two-and-a-half hour event was to allow Democratic Party candidates appearing on the primary ballot in the first through eight spots a chance to get to know the voters, both in attendance and viewing online live with the help of social media.
Current St. Croix Sens. Diane Capehart and Kenneth Gittens did not attend.
The St. Croix Economic Development Initiative organized the forum, and its spokesman, Anthony Weeks, started things off stressing the importance of the upcoming elections.
“I am dubbing this election the cliffhanger of all elections,” Weeks said. “Why I’m saying that is literally the Virgin Islands and, particularly St. Croix’s economy, is literally on the edge of the cliff.”
He then urged people to “come out of the sandbox and take off the kid gloves and make the tough decision to put people in office in position to have the capacity to lead and know exactly what they’re doing.”
From there, the candidates introduced themselves – Neville James, Novelle Francis, Colin Hodge, Malcolm McGregor, Carol Burke and George Moore.
After stating their platforms, the candidates fielded a few questions basically asking them to describe why they were qualified to be a senator and what ideas they had for turning around St. Croix’s economy.
When the question turned to what a candidate would do if elected to ensure the 31st Legislature is different and improved from the 30th, candidate McGregor said his working experience with the current administration gave him a different perspective.
“I have seen the good and seen the bad, with both this administration and this Legislature,” McGregor said. “I think both parties have to work together, work with consensus for the betterment of the people of the Virgin Islands. I think we’ve lost that and we’ve seen the petty politics ruin our island.”
After a little banter on improving agricultural policy and making St. Croix’s workforce more ready for the global economy, candidate Hodge was then asked how he would balance development versus the protection of lands on St. Croix.
Hodge made it clear he was pro-development, but that more than anything to answer that question fully, the island needed an updated and enforced land and water use plan.
“This is the time for development. There is no doubt that with development come jobs,” Hodge said.
“I’m not the candidate to ask ‘Listen, let’s keep St. Croix the way we have it.’ No way. St. Croix has a lot of potential.”
McGregor agreed that an updated and enforced land use plan was critical to St. Croix’s economic development future.
“We have the luxury of land and the luxury of planning our growth,” McGregor said. “One of the things I think we’ve failed to do is plan long range. We do things short term, we do them haphazardly and then we have issues with flooding and (public) buildings sinking and cracking. … Yes, we need protected lands, but definitely we need growth and development. Without that our economy will continue to decline.”
Perhaps the highlight of the forum came when all candidates were asked for their personal vision statement for St. Croix.
Candidate Burke pleaded for the territory to be more welcoming to outside investment.
Candidate Moore then said he wanted to “welcome the world” to St. Croix.
“St. Croix is a gem,” Moore said. “We have our problems but if we work together in harmony and put our differences aside we’ll be top notch.”
Candidate Hodge’s vision was for an islandwide “better quality of life,” while candidate Francis wanted the island to “come together” and “develop as one island.”
James listed a host of visions he had for St. Croix and made it clear he wanted back his old job as a senator. One dream James said he knew could be realized was 12 cents per kilowatt-hour for V.I. Water and Power Authority-generated electricity customers versus the current rates they pay at just over a half-a-dollar, the highest in the United States.
“What we’re lacking right now is innovation, vision, conviction and cohesion,” he said. “But we need money, and right now I don’t know because of our debt capacity if we have the ability to borrow. So we need some help. We need a bailout. The U.S. government is responsible for the U.S. Virgin Islands, and we need to come up with a plan to ask them to provide capitol to move forward.”
Another candidates’ forum for those numbered nine through 16 on the ballot takes place June 30 at Frederiksted’s Pier 69 restaurant from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.