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Divided Democrats Meet on St. Thomas

Nov. 23, 2004 — Members of the Democratic Party met at Victor's Hideout on St. Thomas Tuesday evening in hopes of unifying the party now divided by a recent split of three party senators.
Feelings of resentment and anger could be felt in the room as Glen Smith, St. Thomas-St. John District chairman addressed the group.
"Our party is really facing some serious challenges," Smith said. "It is clear that we are having issues among Democrats."
The "issues" refer to the decision of Sens. Lorraine Berry, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Shawn-Michael Malone to split and align themselves with the minority comprised of independents and members of the Independent Citizens Movement. (See "Senate Majority is Finally Official, For Now").
"They belong to our family," Smith said of the members who had "abandoned" them.
Senator-elect Craig Barshinger said he was "excited" in spite of what had happened.
"We haven't seen a gathering of Democrats like this in a long while," Barshinger said. "Not since years gone by when the Democrats were a force to be reckoned with."
He urged for unity among the members.
"A sham majority isn't worth forming," Barshinger said, adding they might as well be a coalition of 15. He said a majority must have shared values and pushed for the senators to work together for a unified agenda.
Sen. Louis Hill, who had been at the center of the controversy, also spoke. Hill had first been chosen as president of the 26th Legislature last week. However, that changed after Berry, Donastorg and Malone joined the then minority. Malone in reports had claimed that the people of the Virgin Islands did not want another Dominican Senate president. Hill is a native Dominican.
Hill said the three senators did not decide to abandon the party over philosophical differences.
"We're not talking issues here," Hill said. "They put ethnic prejudice and the pursuit of personal power above party principles."
Hill said he did not ask to be nominated but was approached by a number of senators.
"I will not forget my values and principles," Hill said. "I can serve in any capacity, and I'm prepared to do that."
Hill challenged the elected leaders to nominate other people if they wanted and to do the vote again if they so chose.
"I believe in the Democratic Party's potential," Hill said, adding he would not leave the party even if he weren't president of the 26th Legislature.
Luis "Tito" Morales, moved for the meeting to go into executive session after Hill's address, saying they were naming names, and "we do not need to air our dirty laundry in front of the media."
The motion was approved and Morales called for their sergeant-at-arms to "escort" the media representatives outside.
After the meeting, Smith said the group felt the meeting should have been held "behind closed doors" as explanation for their action.
Smith added that the purpose of the meeting was to unite Democrats. However, some members leaving the meeting said they felt that purpose had not been accomplished because of the failure to adopt a petition that had been circulated.
"Why did you call this meeting?" one angry member asked Smith.
The approximately 50 members in the audience were given a petition to sign to help attain unity. The petition in essence claimed that because the Democratic Party was the largest political party in the territory, and in the Nov. 2 General Election the party secured 10 of 15 seats, it was the "expectation that our Democratic Party would be the majority."
The petition further stated that because this had not occurred by Tuesday (Nov. 23) and the "political viability of our party is at risk due to unresolved differences between our elected leaders … we the undersigned are fully supportive of the position that all of the Democratic Party elected leaders of both districts continue to meet to discuss the formation of the 26th Legislature until an agreement can be attained through consensus."
The group voted not to approve the petition but rather to send it to the Democratic Territorial Committee for full approval.
But Smith held that the meeting was a success anyway.
"Based on the number of persons who showed up here tonight, it showed that members of the Democratic Party were concerned about the state of the party," Smith said.
Smith said the petition would go before the committee in two to three weeks.
"I'm just hopeful that the 10 Democrats will come together," Sen. Roosevelt David said, adding he just wants the "betterment" of the people.
Of his three colleagues who had split he said, "I've learned to expect the unexpected, and I can't change that."
Besides Hill, Barshinger and David, Sen. Luther Renee and Alvin Williams, 26th Legislature candidate, were present. Donastorg and Malone, who had been invited to speak, did not attend the meeting. Berry had been invited to speak as well and did not attend, but did send her chief of staff, James Francis, although he did not address the crowd formally.

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