Undercurrents: Democratic Territorial Committee Membership is Official

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

A lot of issues remain murky for the Democratic Party in the Virgin Islands but one thing has been clarified. The party released the official, certified list of its Territorial Committee members last week. 

There are a total of 54 names on the list.  Of those, 18 are ex-officio members, serving on the committee by virtue of the public office they sought on the Democratic ticket in the last general election, rather than having been elected to a party position, as were the regular members.  It took more than a year to reconcile the list with the Board of Elections.

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Now, in light of the Elections Office position that political parties begin to manage the elections of their leaders, it will be up to the Territorial Committee to come up with a plan and the state chairman to present it. 

Reportedly there is a faction that wants to have the election on June 4 at the same time that Democrats choose their delegates to the national convention.  There are others who want to wait until after the presidential election.

Still others seem to be resisting the change all together, preferring to have the Elections Office continue to oversee party elections along with primary elections for public office.

The timing matters to a lot of Democrats, including Donna Christensen, former V.I. delegate to Congress and a titular head of the party.  She confirmed Tuesday that she will run for state chairman, the highest party office.  The question is when and how.

“This whole election is such a confusion,” she said. On St. Croix, no one has applied at the Board of Elections to run for a party office during the 2016 primary season.  “St. Thomas seems to have a different opinion.” The joint board needs to clarify things, Christensen said.

She said Democrats expected the Legislature to amend the law to reflect the new system, but “that has not yet happened.”  It’s less than six months until the local primary, making it problematic to change the law now.

Meanwhile, the local party is trying to organize for the June 4 caucus at which it will choose the territory’s delegates to the National Convention to select the Democratic candidate for president.

Any registered Democrat can vote in the caucus.  Democrats who want to run to be a delegate to the National Convention must apply by May 3.

Christensen said a group of Territorial Committee members recently presented a petition to State Chairman Cecil Benjamin, calling on him to schedule a meeting of the committee.  The party bylaws say the chairman must send out the call within 15 days of receiving a petition and the meeting must be held 15 to 30 days from the call.  That could put it on or about May 14. 

Neither Benjamin nor V.I. Democratic Party Executive Director Pamela Richards Samuel responded to calls and email messages left Monday and Tuesday.  Samuel had announced there would be a Territorial Committee meeting Saturday, but several members contacted about the meeting this week said it was billed as a “retreat” rather than a meeting. 

Most of the members also said they did not attend because they were off-island or had prior commitments.  One who did attend said it was hard to tell the difference between a “meeting” and a “retreat.”  One big difference could be that no action can be taken without a quorum.

At least the issue of who is on the Territorial Committee has been clarified. Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes had earlier deferred to committee member Lauretta Petersen to release the list.  Petersen did so a week ago.

The members who were elected to party leadership positions are State Chairman Cecil Benjamin, chairpersons for each of the three largest islands: Edgar Phillips, St. Thomas; Sandra Setorie, St. Croix; and James Dalmida, St. John.  Additionally National Committeewoman Carol M. Burke and National Committeeman Emmet Hansen II are on the committee. (They serve a four-year term, so were not elected in 2014.)

The rank and file elected members are:

–                 St. Thomas, at-large: Dwayne Benjamin, Ethlyn Joseph, Ricky Francois, Horace Callwood, Jose George, Randolph Thomas and Glenn Smith;

–                 St. Croix at-large: Alicia Barnes, May Adams Cornwall, Sonia Boyce, Lauretta Petersen, Florine Hassell, Herbert Grigg Jr., Ninafe Giron, Josette Walker and Louis Hassell;

–                 St. Thomas-St. John district: Riise Richards, Rudy Krigger Jr., Kenneth Christopher, Neta Christopher, Roger Minkoff, Marc Stridiron, Leona Smith (St. John) and Cleone Creque Maynard (St. John);

–                 St. Croix district: Renee Petersen, Heather Proctor, Janet Brow, Fernando Webster Jr., Christina Perez and Dodson James.

The party bylaws also provide for ex-officio members.  Basically these are all the people who ran for a major public office as a Democratic in the general election, whether or not they won.

Currently that means V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett; two “titular heads,” Christensen and Basil Ottley, the unsuccessful Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor respectively; 11 of the 15 sitting legislators, Sens. Marvin Blyden, Jean Forde, Novelle Francis, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Justin Harrigan, Myron Jackson, Neville James, Janette Millin Young, Sammuel Sanes and Kurt Vialet; and the four unsuccessful Democratic candidates for the Legislature: Diane Capehart, Donald Cole, Malcolm McGregor and Ronnie Jones.

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