Undercurrents: Time’s Running Short to Solve Democrat Members Mystery

A regular Source column, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events developing beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.

You think the Virgin Islands Republican leadership is in confusion?

The Democrats don’t even know who all their local leaders are.

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As of Monday, they had yet to release the names of the members of the Territorial Committee, the governing body of the V.I. Democratic Party. Public office holders belonging to the party serve on the committee; other members supposedly were elected by registered Democrats who voted for them in the 2014 primary. In reality, however, the list appears to be a bit fluid.

In late March, State Chair Cecil Benjamin, referred questions about the committee to Pamela Richards Samuel, the party’s executive director. Samuel dodged phone calls for two weeks. Last week she said the Territorial Committee will meet April 23, but she referred further questions (such as who is expected to show up) back to Benjamin, who did not respond to a follow up call and email. Several other prominent Democrats sad they did not know who is on the Territorial Committee.

The situation seems to illustrate one reason the Board of Elections has decided that voters shouldn’t elect political party officers at the same time they choose their party candidates for public office, but instead should leave the Board of Elections out of the process and just handle it themselves.

Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes confirmed that under current rules her office is supposed to certify the winners of party elections, which are held during primaries for local public office. But, she said, the party makes its own review of the ballots and has 30 days to contest the results reported by the Board of Elections. Typically, many of the Territorial Committee votes are write-ins, and party members are more likely to recognize alternate spellings, for instance. Then too, some people may not accept election, and others may be on the roster by virtue of their having won a public office. Some may have passed away or moved out of the territory.

Elections and the party have been trying to reconcile their lists for quite a while.

“They had a few updates” to the listing Fawkes said last week. “So they’re the ones who have the most current one.”

Fawkes at first agreed at least to send the most recent listing she had, but then said in an email that “the staff recommend you obtain the list from the Territorial Committee of each party” to avoid confusion. She recommended contacting Lauretta Petersen for the Democratic Party’s list.

Petersen responded that the list would be approved and sent again to Fawkes sometime this week.

While insiders present the situation as a minor procedural matter, it has become time-sensitive. And it could be more than embarrassing if it isn’t resolved soon.

That’s because V.I. Democrats will choose delegates to the National Convention on June 4 and members are looking to the Territorial Committee to decide whether to elect party officers at the same time. One faction is eager for new officers; another feels that it’s bad business to switch party officers before a presidential primary and would prefer to wait not only until after the primary but until after the election.

You can send the author of this column email at [email protected].

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