May 2, 2005 — Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has suspended Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin without pay for a month. Benjamin will be out of his office until May 27, according to someone answering the phone at the Labor Department.
A three-sentence release from Government House sent Monday afternoon said only that Turnbull had named Assistant Commissioner Eleuteria Roberts as the acting commissioner of the department and that, "During this period Labor commissioner Cecil R. Benjamin will be on leave."
Stalwarts of the Democratic Party, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Benjamin was suspended for criticizing the governor's handling of party affairs.
Benjamin, in his capacity as Democratic state chairman, had written to Turnbull two weeks ago criticizing him for his lack of support for the Senate minority senators, which Benjamin said was contributing to the disunity among members of the Democratic Party. Benjamin had also written to Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville.
Serville had said some harsh things about the governor at a meeting on St. Croix, and Benjamin, in an effort to achieve unity in the party, tried to mend the rift before it went further, according to one source.
Benjamin also reportedly criticized the governor for being unwilling to meet with Democratic Party leaders.
One party member said Monday night the governor has been "steadfastly" unwilling to meet with the party leaders since the election.
Benjamin's suspension, according to the member, "can have a far-reaching impact" on the party. "The state chair is attempting to create unity and he suffers the fate that he has what is the message?"
The governor's action was, "Not normal, not right, not fair," one person inside the party said. "It widens the rift."
Some of the difficulty in the party arose shortly after the November 2004 election, which saw 10 Democrats elected to the Senate. Despite the win for the party, leading to the assumption that a Democratic majority would be formed, Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Shawn-Michael Malone broke from the Democratic party and aligned themselves with the then-minority made up of Independents and Independent Citizens Movement members.
Some Democrats are reportedly upset because the governor has not given support to nor been willing to meet with the now-minority Democratic senators who were left behind after the re-alignment.
Turnbull also lost favor in some arenas when, before the election, he refused to endorse the Democratic slate of senators who were running for seats in the 26th Legislature. By virtue of his position as governor, Turnbull is the titular head of the party.
At the Bull and Bread ceremony held on St. Croix a few days before the election, Turnbull would only say, "Send me the best 15."
When contacted Monday afternoon, James O'Bryan, who directly preceded Benjamin as the state chairman and who also serves as St. Thomas-Water Island administrator and spokesman for the governor, would say only that, "[Benjamin] was placed on leave by the governor."
One member said, "This is the first time I can ever remember a commissioner being put on leave. This is going to cause a lot of problems."
Benjamin did not return calls for comment Monday.
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