Oct. 14, 2004 – With the general election fewer than three weeks away voters were given another opportunity to evaluate the candidates. On Wednesday evening, the University of the Virgin Islands held the second in a series of three 'Issues and Answers' political forums. (See "Candidates Spar a Bit at First UVI Forum").
Ten candidates debated the issues and tried to convince voters they were the right person for the job. UVI, its Student Government Association, Humanities Division and the Golden Key International Honor Society are sponsoring the forums. The final forum will be held on Thursday at the UVI cafeteria.(See "UVI to Host Political Candidates at Open Forums").
Candidates Glen "Butcher" Brown (I), Adelbert Bryan (ICM), Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion (D), Rueben Fenton (R), Oneida Granger (I), Neville James (D), Noel Loftus (R), Steve Nisky (I), Juan Figueroa-Serville (D) and Michael Thurland (D) faced off on the issues.
Of the evening's aspirants Bryan was the only former senator, serving in the V.I. Legislature 1983-86, 1991-92 and 1995-2002. Candidates Brown, Fenton, Granger, Loftus, Nisky, Serville and Thurland have run prior unsuccessful campaigns. Encarnacion and James, both first-time candidates, placed third and first, respectively, in the recent Sept. 11 Democratic primary.
A three-member UVI panel posed questions for the first half of the two-and-one-half-hour forum. The final 45 minutes were reserved for questions from the audience. In the interest of time, the panel discouraged follow-up questions and more than one candidate answering the same question.
Granger, the only female candidate present, vowed to champion women's issues. Penalties for sexual crimes need to be increased, she said. Granger called for a moment of silence for 21-year-old UVI student Lorraine Bryan, who has been missing since Sept. 20. (See "Castle Burke Woman Missing Since Monday").
James cited the disparity between St. Thomas and St. Croix as one of the reasons he is in the race. James, on leave from his position of property and procurement coordinator with the Department of Education, said his department has a staff of five while the same office in St Thomas has 15. He added that private cleaning companies are contracted to maintain St. Thomas schools after hours in addition to the regular daytime staff, while St. Croix has only daytime custodial workers.
Thurland said the administration could save revenues by restructuring Public Works. He noted waste management, garbage pickup and transportation have already been outsourced and building permits should be the sole responsibility of the Department of Property and Procurement. Thurland also advocated for a separate agency, under the governor's office, to write, oversee and manage federal grants.
Serville, who at 30 is the youngest candidate, hopes to establish a new agency for youth outreach, if elected. He also called for the Virgin Islands to apply for World Heritage status; this would help the island create a special identity to enhance the tourism product, he said.
Bryan stood on his senatorial record. He said the people could depend on him to get the facts straight. Bryan said the territory needs to pursue the return of gasoline excise taxes and revisit the two-cents a gallon agreement. Bryan said the Virgin Islands needs to control its own borders, customs and immigration. "We need to address our relationship with the United States."
"Don't look for immediate results when the new legislature is sworn in," Loftus warned. "It's a matter of money," he said, adding the government has borrowed millions of dollars that need to be repaid. Loftus said a hiring freeze is needed so more money can be made available to improve infrastructure. Answering a question on the plight of the homeless, Loftus said we have not been providing adequate resources for social services, adding, most of the money allotted to social services "goes to salaries."
Encarnacion, who is a retired fire chief, stood firm behind the delegate and the CFO legislation. He said the CFO is needed to control spending.
Some in the audience were not impressed with the discussion.
Monique Washington was one of them. "They said a lot of clichés," she said. "They did not go into specifics." Washington was waiting to hear the candidates tell her exactly how they are going to make things happen. "Even the [candidates'] literature is too general. It's all the same," she said. "That's our biggest problem."
Another attendee, who did not want to give her name, agreed that candidates should be more specific. "They are responding to what they are hearing."
Toye Willock, 80, said the discussion "was very good" and voters should elect the younger candidates. "They have the new ideas. They are intelligent," she said.
"The candidates danced around the issues," said Arthur A. Joseph. Joseph said the candidates ran away from the issues, attacked each other instead of the problems and ended up sounding too much alike. He said candidates "need to exhibit more courage, even in the face of their own demise."
The forums were taped by WTJX Channel 12 and will be aired Saturday, Oct. 16, 1-3 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 17, noon-6 p.m.
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