Nov. 2, 2008 — If the issue of complacency were a vote-winner, Senate incumbents would reign victorious on Tuesday — election day — at least with voters who turned up for an election forum on St. Thomas Saturday night. Not a single incumbent appeared at the forum, which drew some 60 people to the Charlotte Amalie High School auditorium.
"I was pretty disappointed that there were no incumbents," said one attendee, Sheri Meyers. "Yes, you want to hear from the new people but, either the incumbents are not fully aware what is at stake, or the people are being taken for granted."
Ann Williams said after the forum that she was energized by the evening, and has now written all the incumbents off her list.
"We are very concerned about our economy and the heightened violence in our community," said Williams. "Those are real concerns we have. I was very impressed by those who came out tonight. The fact that I didn't see anybody like the incumbents, I think it shows they are complacent. I think they'll be very surprised to find out they dont have a job in January. I can't wait until Tuesday!"
Clarence Payne, one of the event organizers, addressed the group before the question/answer session began, his voice competing somewhat with loud music seeping in through the auditorium windows, courtesy of Senate incumbent Celestino White's campaign party just across the street.
"It's kind of amazing how some people would prefer to party on a night like this, and then expect us to vote for them three days from now," Payne said. "Let's afford them an opportunity to party forever without our assistance!"
With eight senate seats up for grabs in the St. Thomas-St. John district and 24 candidates vying, nine aspirants came to the forum at CAHS, organized by a group of people who decided in September that they didn't really know much about who was running and why. In classic grassroots style, they organized this gathering, allowing audience members to ask the questions, submitted in writing and delivered by a moderator.
"I myself wasn't even going to vote," confessed the lead organizer, Harriet Mercer. "So, I had this idea we needed to find out who these people are."
The forum saw more than three hours of questioning, with each aspirant being asked the same question and given one minute to respond. The Q-and-A followed opening remarks in which each candidate offer a personal statement.
— Krim M. Ballentine, a retired U.S. deputy marshal, community activist and radio host, introduced himself saying, "Respect versus disrespect, that's our most urgent problem." Ballentine said he wants to " go to the legislature to try to pull it together and be a calming force."
— Craig Barshinger, a former senator and resident of St. John with a background in science, said he loves to help people, is always willing to listen and claimed numerous accomplishments during an earlier term, among them the passage of legislation he sponsored prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace.
— Dwane A. Callwood, who has a degree in accounting and counts critical thinking as his strongest skill said his candidacy represents " an upgrade between the people of the Virgin Islands and those we elect to serve us."
— Delores T. Clendinen described herself as a wife, a mother and a retired educator of 31 years, calling herself " a voice for the hour," and said, it's time to "go back to basics" and "do it the godly way."
— Stedmann Hodge, Jr., a labor relations compliance officer who serves in the National Guard, has combat experience and is also a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, said he's committed to change.
— Myron D. Jackson, executive director of the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute and a member of the Constitutional Convention, said his platform is based on community revitalization and said he is committed to " preservation and development of the culture and history of the people of the Virgin Islands."
— Lynn Joseph Porter, a licensed cosmetologist, described herself as a "strong advocate for trade," and offering trade skills in school, and " we need to get into primary school and educate kids on the importance of tourism. We need to improve customer service and improve the way we treat tourists."
— Tregenza A. Roach, a practicing attorney and a journalist by training, said "my platform is education, because it is the core issue that affects us all in this society and the public being involved in public policy."
— Louis M. Willis, who said he spent 25 years at the Internal Revenue Bureau, several of them in charge, said he's in the race because the Virgin Islands is "in big trouble financially" and he wants to help fix the problem.
Assorted grilling of aspirants
Questions to the aspirants ranged from energy concerns, to term limits, to publicly naming criminals who are minors, to bribery.
Asked their position on privatizing the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), seven of the candidates said flatly that they were against it. (Barshinger, who had to catch a ferry, and Callwood, who had a radio appointment, had excused themselves.)
Another questioner wanted to know if the candidates thought a senator can "become ineffective after serving more than five consecutive terms."
"Yes, that's easy," Porter said.
"Yes, without a doubt," Hodge said.
According to Willis and Roach, a senate position is a job, not a career.
"When you have a limited number of terms," Roach said, "it provides the opportunity for new leadership in the legislature of the Virgin Islands."
Krim Ballentine disagreed.
"No, I don't believe in term limits," he said. "If a voter wants you there 15 times, they ought to suffer with you and be stuck with you."
Clendenin agreed, and Jackson said an ineffective senator would solve any term limit issue by getting him or herself voted out.
Should minors' names be made public?
The aspirants were mixed in their views about whether it's right to publish the name of a minor involved in a crime. Ballentine, Jackson and Roach said they would be opposed to publishing minors' names. Hodge and Willis said they would not be opposed. "As long as you pass 13, that name should be published in the Daily News or in the media," said Willis.
Clendinen said she wasn't sure.
"I would go on the side of mercy," she said. "But if the name is published, at least the community could reach out to that family and provide the support they need."
Porter was split.
"I cannot say yes and I cannot say no," she said.
As to their abilities to resist temptation and not take bribes, the candidates predictably declared themselves above such temptation, citing integrity, and in Clendinen's case, "fear of the Lord."
Ballentine was more speculative.
"I always appeal to the thing of innocent until proven guilty," he said. "We don't respect people. I probably have dealt with bribes more than anyone here because I'm a law enforcement officer. I would handle a problem as it occurs and not accuse people of taking bribes and ruin their reputation."
Hodge replied with, "The answer is no. Why? My name."
The evening ended with all in attendance being invited to submit a paper ballot and "vote" for the senate candidates of their choice, regardless of whether they were members of Saturday's panel. The forum organizers said they would release results of the "voting" prior to the real election.
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