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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 20, 2024


Incumbent Democratic senators in the St. Croix district got a run for their money from newcomers in Saturday's Democratic primary election.
In perhaps the most closely watched and most significant race, nine candidates vied for seven Democratic senatorial seats in the November general election. And even with poor voter turnout across the territory – which usually favors incumbents – they did not fare well.
When the votes were in from all of St. Croix's 27 polling places, Douglas Canton Jr., who has run twice before, was at the head of the slate with 1,268 votes, followed closely by Emmett Hansen II with 1,213 votes in his first bid for public office. Halfway through the vote count Saturday night, Hansen was ahead but Canton gained the lead and kept it, racking up 14.32 percent of votes cast Saturday.
Incumbent Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste was third with 1,132 votes, followed by Sen. David Jones with 1,079 votes and Senate President Vargrave Richards in the fifth slot with 1,061 votes. Ophelia "Nemmy" Williams-Felix was sixth with 928 votes and attorney Ronald Russell rounded out the pack with 867 votes.
Odd men out included newcomer Evelyn Messer James with 796 votes and former Sen. Miguel Camacho, who garnered only 500 votes. Camacho, a lifelong Republican, ran as a Democrat in this year's primary.
The seven candidates will face more than 20 Republican, Independent Citizens Movement and independent candidates in the senatorial race on St. Croix in the November general election. Voters on election day will select seven from the field of candidates to represent St. Croix in the 24th Legislature.
Canton credited his strong showing to voters’ lack of confidence in incumbent senators and their accomplishments over the last two years – particularly Crucians.
"The reality is people are tired of what is going on here and they want a breath of fresh air," he said. "I feel I reached the people on subjects that are close to them."
Late Saturday night, Hansen was so upbeat about his performance at the polls that he said his "cheeks were sore from smiling." While he is a relative newcomer to the political scene on St. Croix, Hansen said he has been active in various activities on the island for 16 years.
"I am not a stranger to the St. Croix community," he said. "It’s nice to see, regardless of the turnout, that people still go out and support the people they believe in."
A primary election was not needed in the senatorial race on St. Thomas as only seven Democratic candidates are seeking seats in that district.
St. Croix reported an incredibly low voter turnout for the primary election. From polling place to polling place, election workers at times outnumbered the voters who trickled in to cast ballots. By midday, most polling places were reporting well below 100 voters.
Preliminary figures released by the Elections Office indicated that 2,761 of 19,686 registered Democrats voted in St. Croix, a meager 14 percent turnout.
In St. Thomas-St. John, the turnout was worse with just over 6 percent of registered voters casting ballots – about 1,100 voters of the 17,261 registered Democrats.
One election worker said Saturday night, "I've seen low turnout before but it's never been this bad." Another simply said, "Virgin Islanders no longer seem interested in political parties or primary election politics."
In party politics Saturday, perhaps the biggest upset came when former Sen. Arturo Watlington, Jr. upset incumbent James O'Bryan Jr. for the Democratic Party state chairman's post. Watlington got 1,041 votes and Cecil Benjamin got 752, with O'Bryan finishing third with 591 votes.
O'Bryan had been state chair of the Democratic Party since 1998 when Marylyn Stapleton was unseated by party officials after being employed in a non-Democratic administration.
But the bitterness from that removal two years ago was not the only reason for O'Bryan's demise. At a Territorial Committee meeting two months ago, O'Bryan was accused by party members of freely spending party money and in one instance of not conducting party business fairly. Immediately after that meeting a member of the Territorial Committee, Norma Pickard-Samuel, left the party and re-registered as an Independent.
In other party leadership races Saturday, Winthrop Maduro beat Simon Kevin Caines for the St. Thomas district chairmanship. Maduro racked up 617 votes, Caines 328. On St. Croix, Terrence Joseph beat Clarice Blake 833 to 383 for that district's chairmanship.
Former Lt. Gov. Derek M. Hodge ran unopposed for Democratic national committeeman. Maria "Chi-Chi" Heywood beat Marylyn Stapleton for the national committeewoman position. Territory-wide, Heywood got 1,588 votes to Stapleton's 728 votes.
In the Territorial Committee race, St. Thomas saw 13 Democrats running for six seats. The top finishers were Shawn Michael-Malone, Gerald Hodge Sr., Elmo Adams Jr., Roy Howard, June Adams and Lesmore Howard. The seven unsuccessful candidates were Robert Boschulte, Simon Caines, Kenn Hobson, Tony Greene, Angel Turnbull, Eastlyn Igwemadu and Pauline Martin.
With no candidates on the ballot for the district of St. John in the Democratic Territorial Committee race, 40 write-ins were cast.
In the St. Croix district, six candidates were vying for the six available seats on the party's Territorial Committee. No primary voting was required as all six are now seated: Sonia Boyce, Neville Connell, Anthony Kiture, Sidney Lee, Malcolm Plaskett and Jamila Russell.
Fourteen candidates battled for 16 at-large seats on the Democratic Territorial Committee. All candidates won their seats along with two other write-in candidates.
The 14 listed candidates were Rupert Ross Jr., Carol Burke, Jorge "Tito" Galiber, Luis "Tito" Morales, Shawn Michael-Malone, Carmen Golden, Marylyn Stapleton, Aubrey Lee, Kevin Rodriquez, Carla Joseph, Clarice Blake, Carmen Gonsalez, Omar Henry and Cedric Prince.
In Republican Party politics Saturday, Garry Sprauve was elected state chairman to lead the party over the next two years. In a close race, Sprauve received 77 votes to Sam Baptiste's 69 votes. A third candidate, Alton Brewster, got 28 votes.
Baptiste had the lead after all St. Croix polling places were counted, but the final tally from St. Thomas put Sprauve over the top. He replaces James Oliver, who did not seek re-election as state GOP chairman.
In the national committeewoman race, April Moran Newland defeated former Sen. Lilliana Belardo de O'Neal by a one-vote margin. Newland racked up 106 votes, O'Neal 105.
Former Sen. Holland Redfield ran unopposed for national committeeman. GOP party guidelines indicate the newly elected Territorial Committee will select district chairs.
Of 30 available slots on the Republican Territorial Committee, there were only 15 declared candidates, and write-in votes will complete the slate of members.
The 15 candidates were: from St. Thomas, George Blackhall and Shirley Bronston; St. John, Ceila Clendinen Tonge; and St. Croix, Julio Brady, Rueben Fenton, Patricia Murphy, and Gladys Orr. The at-large candidates for the Territorial Committee were Michael Bornn, Humberto O'Neal, Fred Vialet Jr., Jim Oliver, Lawrence Boschulte, Herb Schoenbohm, Vincen "Beef" Clendinen and Frank Davis.
There were 26 write-in votes from St. Thomas, six from St. John and 15 from St. Croix. In the at-large race, 74 write-in votes were recorded.
Election officials could not say Saturday night when the write-in votes in each race will be tabulated. Results of the election are unofficial until write-ins are counted and absentee ballots are received and tabulated.

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