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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 13, 2024


While on the face of things it appears that the Democrats are in for an explosive and expensive election of party officers this year, the Republicans, at a fraction of their number, are quietly holding to the course set in February when they selected delegates to this year's GOP national convention.
The Democrats could agree on little at a meeting Saturday of the party's territorial committee. According to the V.I. Daily News, the new election plan presented by party chair James O'Bryan Jr. was roundly and vehemently rejected.
Labor leader Luis "Tito" Morales threatened to take O'Bryan to court if he pursued the plan, the newspaper reported, and Arturo Watlington Jr., seen as a likely challenger for O'Bryan's job, claimed the party lacked the credibility to adopt a new plan so close to the Sept. 9 primary elections. "We have to have public primaries to ensure openness," Watlington said.
The issue of electing the party officers was frequently overshadowed by the rowdy behavior of members opposing O'Bryan, his plan and what the critics called his "high-handedness" in conducting party business and spending party funds, according to published reports.
Sen. George Goodwin, the treasurer, submitted a written report but was not at the meeting to address questions concerning party finances. Several members, notably Nora Samuel, took offense. Goodwin "should never have taken this position with the party if he can't handle his responsibilities," the V.I. Independent quoted her as saying.
It appeared that former territorial party chair Marylyn Stapleton and former St. Thomas-St. John district chair Arah Lockhart were still smarting from their highly publicized ouster from those posts in a move instigated by O'Bryan three years ago. The committee, under O'Bryan's leadership, adopted a bylaws change specifying that party officials could not hold policymaking positions in non-Democratic administrations. The two women took the floor on several occasions to hurl personal barbs at O'Bryan, according to published reports.
Democratic National Committeewoman Clarice Blake also got into the act, protesting O'Bryan's assigning of Tourism's assistant commissioner, Pamela Richards, to arrange the V.I. delegation's housing and hospitality facilities at the Democratic National Convention next month in Los Angeles.
Meantime, according to Republican convention delegation chair Samuel Baptiste, plans for this year's GOP election of officers in the territory will cost about $200, and, with the approval of elections supervisor John Abramson Jr., should follow the procedure used in February to choose convention delegates.
At that time, party representatives gathered at Gertrude's Restaurant in St. Croix and at the Republican office in Nisky Center on St. Thomas. Using paper ballots, with the process managed by neutral sources within the party, the selection went without incident, Baptiste said.
The V.I. Republican Party has between 5,000 and 6,000 members, according to Baptiste. As reported by Roy Howard, committee member and Elections Board member, there are 20,000 Democratic Party members.
V.I. Election System employee Ecelma Sprauve said Monday that the numbers, according to the records of her office, are 16,105 registered Democrats and 1,201 registered Republicans.
Abramson estimated that electing the Democratic Party officers as a part of the primary in September would cost about $160,000, including rentals, use of voting machines and election officials' salaries and food. He said the bill will be sent to the party under legislation passed in 1998 that provides for parties to come up with their own methods of choosing party officers, with Election Board approval.
J.J. Estemac, who chairs the candidate search committee of the Independent Citizens Movement, could not be reached for comment Monday on how the ICM plans to proceed in selecting its officers.
This will be the first election in the territory in which the Elections Board is not responsible for making party officer selection a part of the government-funded party primary process. Abramson said that he has no appropriation from the Legislature for such balloting this year and that he will recommend that the board pro-rate the cost among the parties choosing to go that route, based on the number of candidates they field.
The Democrats are virtually certain to have the largest contested slate. Baptiste said he didn't anticipate any primary election contests for the GOP positions.
Abramson said the Elections Board will cover the traditional primary election costs of choosing slates of candidates for the 24th Legislature, the Elections Board itself, the Education Board and the delegate to Congress.

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