In this series, the Source introduces the community to the platforms of senatorial and gubernatorial candidates and gauges their approaches to issues in the territory. The Source sent each candidate the same questions and is running the answers in the order in which the candidates responded. We aim to publish all the candidate’s answers prior to the Nov. 8 General Election, contingent upon the candidates providing their responses in time. Any candidate with questions or in need of a link to the questionnaire can email us at email@example.com.
This story covers the views and planned initiatives of Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.:
Q: Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands leader, and why should voters choose you over other candidates? What are your top priorities for the territory and why?
I have been a Virgin Islands leader for most of my life. I have led as an organizer and community activist as well as a commissioner, chair of various public and private boards and now as the governor of the Virgin Islands. This is my community and I believe it is my duty to do all that I can to improve the quality of life for our residents and present the best experience for our guests.
Voters should choose the Bryan/Roach Team once again because we are tried and tested. I have prepared myself with education as well as a broad background in the private, public and non-profit spaces to be the best Governor I can be. I have served this community because I love service and serving the people of the Virgin Islands. Equally so, the Lt. Governor is well educated, experienced in public affairs, has also worked in the private sector, successfully served in the legislature, has diligently improved the services of the Division of Banking and Insurance, and together our relationships on the national, international and regional levels have benefited the USVI in numerous ways.
We have resolved many long-standing problems in our first four years and stabilized the government and its finances. Our priorities for the second four will be dedicated to building a healthcare system, more affordable and reliable energy options, strong housing, and an education system that continues to support children and adults from pre-k to college including technical training
Q: What fuels violent crime in the territory, and what should the government, non-profit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
Violent crime in our community is fueled by a number of things, but mostly the influence of a greater American society that constantly messages our residents, especially through social media, negative images of young men and women of color. It is also fueled by poverty and a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that is perpetuated by the same messaging.
To help alleviate this problem, we have been attacking it on two fronts which according to available data has led to a decrease in violent crime across the board this year. The first part is the enforcement of our gun control laws and random stops to take guns and shooters off the streets. We have also worked to appoint more prosecutors to the bench to ensure that we are incarcerating violent criminals. We have outfitted the police with more personnel, graduating more cadets every year and reinstating the police auxiliary program. We now have more than 160 cameras in the territory that reduce crime and help to identify and prosecute criminals. We are committed to maintaining and retaining these resources.
We initiated the first USVI Office of Gun Violence Prevention and hired “violence interrupters” to help stop the escalation of skirmishes in our community. This combined with free training, apprenticeship programs, and free college tuition give impoverished young people options to improve their outlook. We continue public service messages urging residents to become involved in protecting their families and we position police officers in communities to foster our residents’ trust and willingness to work together to fight crime.
We have granted non-profit organizations millions of dollars to assist with their community programs that deter unemployment, homelessness, hunger, health issues and crime. And we maintain contact with them through designated government agencies to ensure progress.
Q: How would you improve the territory’s electrical grid and implementation of renewable energy?
We have already purchased four brand new generators complete with battery backup so we can produce power cheaper with less outages. This new infrastructure is being complemented by a new solar array which will produce 50% of the power on the island of St. Croix. The reduction in cost of solar generation will benefit all customers no matter the island on which they reside. The Bryan/Roach administration has also instituted a new “get off the grid program” that allows for consumers to completely get off the grid and own their own power system. We have embarked on a mission to turn WAPA into a renewable energy company that will keep the power cheap, on, and renewable.
The last step is to restructure all WAPA’s debt and pay some off using federal funds. This will have the greatest impact on customer bills by allowing WAPA to get cheaper debt over a longer period to pay. Our administration will solve the 40-year-old WAPA problem once and for all in the next four years.
Q: How can the territory improve upon its tourism product to better compete within the Caribbean region and beyond?
The Virgin Islands leads the Caribbean in Tourism presently and is ranked number one in recovery from tourism with an increase of 44% according to the Caribbean Tourism Association. We are totally redeveloping our product with a new Veterans Drive, Frederiksted waterfront improvements, Main Street rehabilitation, and redesigned Vendors Plaza. We have tripled the amount of cruise ship tourists to St. Croix for 2023 and new hotel development and refurbishment is on the way in both districts. Our charter yacht business is back and booked solid for the season and we have not even started tourist season yet.
Our record numbers of tourists during COVID has allowed us to amass a large cache of marketing money which we have been using to keep our number one spot through targeted advertising in markets stateside. We are about to launch a whole new slew of commercials and marketing products for the upcoming season. In addition, we are proud to announce the makeover of both of our airports to the tune of $350 million including the long awaited jetways. We believe these initiatives will help to keep us competitive in the industry.
Q: How would you improve the USVI’s taxi product? Do you think a service such as Uber could work here?
The taxi industry must adjust its business practices and models to provide a standard of service that is comparable to other jurisdictions. Some of this requires innovation on the part of the taxi owners themselves. We will continue to work with the Taxicab Commission to improve its capacity to adequately regulate the taxi industry and support the taxi owners.
While ride share services like Uber and Lyft have become an integral part of the vehicle-for-hire business on the mainland, we do not support putting those services in direct competition with our existing taxi drivers.. Rather, we support working with the Taxicab Commission and the Senate to introduce rideshare service in a manner that allows existing taxi medallion holders to participate and benefit. We would like to oversee the eventual transformation of the industry in a way that is fair to the existing taxi businesses.
Q: What are your plans to promote agriculture in the territory? The Vision 2040 exercise identified agriculture and better food security as the top concern of its survey respondents. How can the USVI achieve this goal?
We have an extensive water expansion plan that will help farmers access cheap water for their crops and livestock. We have funded two major projects to bring an agribusiness incubator to both districts. This incubator is required by law and has never been enacted. We have directed the EDA to expand the farmers and fishers loan program to allow for borrowing up to $100,000. The loan program will also allow for farmers to gain a line of credit so they can access USDA grants that are now reimbursable. As an administration, we recently completed our agricultural plan with the University which is designed to help us reach our goal of producing 35% of the food that we consume. We also support UVI’s Research and Technology Park and their Tech Village project which is dedicated to agricultural research and technology with 16 acres of dedicated farming space, and real opportunities for economic diversity in line with the goals of the Vision 2040 plan.
Q: How should the territory balance development with environmental protection, especially given concerns around climate change?
We are working with several plans that have been developed by community stakeholders to ensure that we include the resiliency measures for climate change into everything that we are building. We are committed to establishing a workable balance between regulated economic growth and environmental protection with the continuing input of our residents and economic developers..
Q: What do you envision as the future of the St. Croix refinery?
We support the opening of the refinery in a safe and respectful manner that recognizes the importance of protecting our residents and our precious island resources. We will settle for nothing less. The refinery is the mainstay of a St. Croix economy that transformed the quality of life for all Virgin Islanders, particularly those living on St. Croix. The refinery drives wages, provides for technical training and allows for a burgeoning middle class with average salaries of $65,000. We must look for the sustainability of our economy beyond this time of construction. The refinery owners are also looking at other uses for the ports, power plants, housing, water plants and the many other resources contained on the property. This can only strengthen our vision for the south shore free trade zone.
Q: Do you support an additional cruise ship dock in St. Thomas Harbor? Why or why not?
Yes, we support the addition of berths in STT. Where that additional berth goes will be in Crown Bay and not as originally planned. We are in a constant competition for passengers and the experts believe that cruise travel is going to become even more popular. High aviation rates driven by high fuel costs and lack of pilots is not going away any time soon. People will be looking for inclusive vacation packages like cruises, and we must be proactive in ways to accommodate these larger ships.
Q: What is your position on Caneel Bay on St. John? Should it be redeveloped? Left in its natural state? A mix of the two?
We believe that Caneel Bay should be redeveloped and eventually returned to the people of St. John and the Virgin Islands. On an island with few employment opportunities, Caneel provided for over 300 direct jobs in season and plenty of high-income clients to spend on island activities. We need a premium class five-star hotel as part of our tourism offerings as we only have one in the territory currently. We will be conscientious about the redevelopment making certain that the comfort of the people and environment of St. John are given major consideration.
Q: What will you do to support the territory’s marginalized and struggling communities?
We have already introduced numerous programs to help educate, train and employ our marginalized communities, Apprenticeship programs, free college education, and free vocational training to name a few. We are building better, smaller and more resilient housing for our residents to thrive in. We continue to raise our income limits, so these families qualify for more federal programs. Most importantly, we are always open to listening to their concerns and formulating solutions that match their needs.
Q: What would you propose to better support people dealing with mental illness, alcoholism, addiction, and homelessness?
The completion of the Eldra Schulterbrandt Annex has allowed for more bed space in our treatment facilities. In the last four years we have made more transitional housing available in the territory and have funded non-profits that get people off island for help. We are currently working on adding an additional 40 beds of transitional housing on the island of St. Thomas and have funded the homelessness efforts on St. John through the Catholic church.
Our ARPA funds have allowed us an opportunity to hire and to fund more initiatives, but we must say that finding qualified personnel is our greatest challenge, and we will continue to increase our efforts to address this shortage, as it is a national problem. Through our Healthier Horizons and Our Best Life initiatives, we will continue to support and increase services to residents with behavioral issues.
Q: How will you support immigrant communities?
We have eliminated the need to produce VI identification to help immigrants get police records. This helps them to obtain a passport and get legal status. We have also eliminated the need to have a social security card to get a health card from the Department of Health. Perhaps most importantly we have worked with UVI to ensure that dreamers who graduate from Virgin Islands high schools are entitled to a free college education as well.
During Covid we dispatched health professionals to these communities to issue protective equipment and vaccines so they didn’t have to face the National Guard at the vaccine centers. Finally, we will continue our work with the senate to allow for a driver’s license for undocumented individuals. And continue to utilize our public messaging in various languages to keep communication open about major issues and during emergency alerts..
Q: What can the government do to better assist and support seniors, as well as family members needing respite from caregiving?
Our government retirees over 65 can now access Medicare Advantage which allows for doctor visits without a co-pay and cheaper prescriptions. We will continue our programs for more homecare and mobile visits for our seniors. The governor’s office has launched the Our Best Life program which now allows for more free activities and services for our seniors. We are refurbishing our senior centers and ordered new buses. We are ensuring that Vitran runs on time and on the weekends. We have partnered with AARP to provide more walkability and installed a senior gym in the Lagoon Complex in St. Croix. Our programs through the Department of Human Services including expansion of the personal attendant care program and ensuring nutritious Meals on Wheels will also assist family members in relieving the financial burdens often associated with elder caregiving. We will continue to support programs which assist with energy and other costs encountered by seniors and their caregivers.
Q: What plans do you have to redevelop a framework for success for young people in the territory? This could include intervention services, education reform, and recreational facilities among others.
We have adopted a cradle to career approach to addressing the needs of our young people in this community. This starts with the great work of the Maternity and Child Health Division at the Department of Health and our expansion of Headstart and public pre-kindergarten programs. Data showed that the 7-8 grades are where we begin losing a lot of our students, so we have adopted a K-8 model in several of our elementary schools to reduce the number of transitions our public school children encounter. We have invested heavily in afterschool and summer enrichment programs. We are now researching ways to effectively extend the school day. We offer free tuition at UVI for our college bound students and numerous training programs for those seeking careers immediately. We are also taking steps to reduce the cost of homeownership for our young adults and to support entrepreneurship opportunities. Ultimately, the investments we are making in infrastructure and economic development as laid out in our Vision 2040 Plan is in anticipation of creating a brighter future for young Virgin Islanders.
Q: What plans do you have to help our LGBTGIA+ youth?
Our Administration has led by example through our inclusion and acceptance of marginalized communities and individuals. Specifically, we have funded the development of programs within the Department of Education that focus on the social and emotional development of our children. We have also funded non-profit organizations that work with these communities to ensure their well-being
Q: Why should millennials vote for you?
Our administration has assembled one of the youngest cabinets in Virgin Islands history. Many of whom are not far removed from the challenges of starting a career, raising a family, and acquiring a home in the Virgin Islands. So, many of our policies are developed with those challenges in mind.
I pride myself in being the first digital Governor. We have brought considerable technology to the Government of the Virgin Islands and digitized many services. We have made free wi-fi widely available throughout the community and provided a government-issued laptop to every public school student that requests one. We are now doing vehicle registration and driver’s license renewals completely online, amongst other services. We maintain a robust social media presence. Our Administration has demonstrated that it is progressive and forward thinking as we seek to pave the way for future generations of Virgin Islanders. We have established a Millennial Council and will be heightening its visibility in the community to promote engagement in public affairs by their piers.
Q: What plans do you have to re-establish the libraries in the territory?
All our major public libraries are undergoing renovations and modernization. Repairs and renovations on the Florence Williams Library in Christiansted and the Elaine Sprauve Library on St. John are now substantially complete and we are anticipating their reopening very shortly. In the meantime, we continue to develop a digital library platform that provides access to electronic books and other literary resources at the user’s convenience 24 hours a day. We have expanded operating hours for the Turnbull Library from 9am to 7pm weekdays and 9am to 6pm on Saturdays. We have also engaged in a number of literacy outreach programs and activities with our community partners.
Q: How can we provide access to affordable healthcare for individuals and small businesses?
Our Administration has put forward a program called Association Health Plans that allows trade associations to offer group health coverage to the employees of its members. So, for example, the members of the Bar Association or the Hotel and Tourism Association can be treated as a group for health insurance purposes. We were successful in attracting a local provider to offer coverage in this manner and we now have approximately 700 individuals, representing eight local trade associations that receive health coverage through an Association Health Plan. Our goal is to further develop this concept and to get more individuals covered through this program.
Q: What possibilities are available for the professional or educational development of individuals within the territory so that we can continue to retain and attract a qualified workforce?
We have invested heavily in workforce development during our first term. We have fully promoted the availability of free tuition at the University of the Virgin Islands made possible by the legislation sponsored by Lt. Governor Roach when he served in the Senate. We currently have a $10 million program, entitled Skills for Today, that trains low-to-moderate income individuals in occupations that will support recovery efforts and help spur economic development in the territory. It provides training programs for jobseekers in entry-level construction fields, as well as incumbent worker training in high-demand sectors such as hospitality, health care, IT and marine services. Our Administration has also established, for the first-time ever, nationally recognized Registered Apprenticeship programs. There are now several business owners taking advantage of this opportunity. Finally, we launched a fellows program that provides a paid two-year internship for recent college graduates with a degree in the financial field. They go on six-month rotations through four government agencies to gain practical experience. The program has been so successful, we are expanding the scope to include engineering and other hard to find professional skills.
Through the USVI Department of Labor’s V.I. Electronic Workforce System (VIeWs), potential employees and employers can find the best fit for skillsets matched to employment opportunities. Entities like the Workforce Development Board which employs strategies and programs such as the Governor’s territory-wide Annual Workforce Summits that will continue to bring business, education and policy together, underscore the Administration’s commitment to further attract and retain a qualified workforce during the next four years which includes our military veterans and residents with disabilities.