In a speech that focused on improving the conditions of life for V.I. residents, newly sworn-in Gov. Kenneth Mapp officially set the tone Monday for his new administration, which he said during inauguration ceremonies on St. Thomas would focus on revitalizing, renovating and reenergizing “America’s Paradise.”
In his first official address as governor, Mapp said, “Inauguration means beginning, and today this new administration is committed to begin a new era on the foundation of ‘building’ – building for the people of the Virgin Islands, inspiring hope and constructing a better quality of life; building to create opportunities for our youth, to provide and care for our senior citizens, and to protect and nurture the well-being of our children.” (link to full text of governor’s speech.)
Drawing inspiration from his surroundings under the bandstand in Emancipation Garden, Mapp spoke about the historic sacrifices made by V.I. ancestors and their ability to overcome obstacles and build communities through hard work. The administration plans to continue those traditions and tackle the “challenges” head-on, from crime to high food prices, Mapp said.
“For decades we have been counting the money we have and the money we don’t have by the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Mapp said. “So we no longer see that a gallon of milk priced at $14 hurts families. We no longer see that $.51 per kilowatt hour – five times the national average – for electricity kills businesses, puts our people out of work and forces some families to live by candle light. We have become numb to the violence that pervades our neighborhoods and we no longer empathize with many folks who simply can no longer make it.”
The high cost of living has continued to drive away families and retirees alike, while local high school graduates also decide not to return after leaving for college because they see no opportunities for them at home, the governor added.
“My fellow Virgin Islanders, the consequences of our not so good choices, the unwillingness of many of us to work hard and the result of many of the poor public policies that we have adopted have come full circle to collect their reward,” he said.
Mapp said the path going forward now would be difficult, but that he and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter remain committed to “learning from the past and building for the future.”
“We’re off to a place to invest in our people, to hire, to create opportunities by growing our economy and providing our youth with the skills and trades to do the jobs and to own and operate the businesses,” he said. “We’re off to a place to build roads and invest in our infrastructure, and a place where businesses can thrive and prosper because we will work with our business partners fairly, with rules and laws that make sense, that are clear and that can be relied upon.”
Senior centers, where the territory’s elderly residents can “have meaningful social interactions with each other and the community,” will also be built, Mapp said, adding that this new administration would “strive for excellence” instead of perfection.
V.I. Supreme Court Justice Ive Arlington Swan swore in Potter first, followed by Mapp. Rain started to fall while Potter was taking the oath of office, but the new lieutenant governor remained cheerful as he took his place on stage as the first “naturalized citizen” to be elected to the office in V.I. history.
“On behalf of all naturalized citizens in the territory, I promise to represent you well,” said Potter, who was born in Tortola, during his first few minutes on the podium.
Potter talked about the “grueling” times spent on the campaign trail over the past few months and spoke about priority areas for the new administration, including education and health and human services. A key goal is to get all local third-graders reading at grade level, while also being able to provide all the necessary services for those in the community that are “the least able to provide for themselves,” Potter said, referring to those helped by Human Services’ federal and childcare programs.
Creating a Police Department that is able to compete “technically and tactically” with others in the nation is also important, Potter added.
“The mission of the administration is to stabilize this economy, create jobs for our people and to improve the lives of all Virgin Islanders and, to do that, we are going to need your patience, your input, your prayers and ideas in the days ahead,” Potter said, highlighting the administration’s need to “have all hands on deck” during the rebuilding process. Potter said he is also committed to working as a team with Mapp as the administration moves forward.
“It is a time to build in the Virgin Islands, and we will be the main contractors on duty for the next four years,” Potter added.