Jan. 17, 2005 "Either you are in or you are out. And those guys are out," Cecil Benjamin, state chairman of the V.I. Democratic Party, said Monday about Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Shawn Michael Malone after the Territorial Committee voted to recognize the seven-member Democrat minority caucus as the official Democratic organization in the 26th Legislature.
Berry, who became president of the Senate after she, Donastorg and Malone formed the consensus majority with Independent and Independent Citizens Movement senators, doesn't see the situation that way. Monday she said about herself, Donastorg and Malone, "We are not defectors. We just decided not to organize with those Democrats."
Berry was upset with how the media covered the Saturday meeting. (See "Democrats Sanction Break-away Senators").
The Source used the word sanction to describe the action against the three senators, as did the Avis in its headline. She objected to the use of that word along with the use by the V.I. Daily News of the word defectors.
She said referring to Sen. Roosevelt David, leader of the minority, "He is just trying to make issues where there are none and the media is falling for it by writing foolishness."
Benjamin said the overwhelming vote to recognize the minority was a message to the three Democrats from the party, "You guys have crossed the line and we are not going to recognize you."
However, the committee did not officially decree any sanction of the three Democrats, and this is where the confusion arises about the committee's action.
Berry said, "I really don't know what it means."
Benjamin said Monday that Saturday's vote was significant and, "We can only recognize one group in the Senate and we chose to recognize the seven Democrats in the minority."
"This is a great step forward for the minority caucus," David said in his press release. "My colleagues and I feel both vindicated and honored to be recognized in this fashion by the party."
Benjamin added, however, that, he thought, the vote did not strip the three other Democrats of their right to vote in party matters.
This is still not clear. In a press release Monday morning, David was still saying the vote meant that Berry, Malone and Donastorg can no longer play key roles in Democratic Party functions, and their vote in the Territorial Committee had been revoked.
Territorial Committeewoman Maria "Chi Chi" Heywood, who made the motion to recognize the minority, said Monday night it was her opinion that this action would take away any rights the three breakaway senators had in the party. She said an article in the party bylaws prohibited party members from joining outside parties.
Benjamin said he expected formal sanctions to be executed against the three senators at a meeting in February.
Berry said, "He cannot tell what is going to happen in the future."
Benjamin said, "What they did was wrong and we will find ways to deal with it appropriately. Senators have done things like this before and have been sanctioned."
Glen Smith, district chair of the St. Thomas Democratic party, said Monday, "Based on the territorial committee rules and bylaws, there are no provisions to remove any individual from being a Democrat. However, by virtue of being elected to office, you are automatically a member of the committee. Members of that body can sanction a Democrat and remove them from the committee. A motion was made only to recognize those seven minority Democrats to represent the committee in the Legislature. If you are in line with another group, you cannot represent the party officially."
When Berry said no sanction had been voted against the three, she is correct in the use of the word as defined by Webster's as "formal decree." However, Webster's mentions a more common use of sanction as a tactic "taken by a group to enforce demands."
Berry Monday also responded to charges senators in the Democrat minority made that budget allotments were unfair and, if Berry were serious about healing the rift, she would not have let that happen. She said the budget allotments were not her decision, but instead a decision of the group. She said they were based on committee assignments and, she did not believe, that the disparities were greater than usual.
Berry was appointed as chair of the Democratic Party Women's Caucus. She asked, "How can you be appointed to head a committee if you have been sanctioned?"
Smith said the motion to elect Berry as head of the women's committee came before the vote to sanction. He said, "Since she was selected before the motion to sanction, that motion would erase or nullify that vote, is my opinion."
"The party stands behind us, the Delegate to Congress stands behind us and the people of the Virgin Islands stand behind us." David said, adding, "My Democratic minority colleagues and I stand strong with renewed faith and commitment to do the work necessary to bring principled leadership, with vision, commitment and purpose to our beloved Virgin Islands."
Despite the discord at the meeting and the fallout afterward, Benjamin, who was elected to his position at the end of last year, called it a very positive meeting. He said it was one of the best-attended territorial committee meetings he could remember. He said the six-hour meeting had to end when it did because another group had rented the space being used.
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