June 18, 2002 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull ended months of speculation about his intentions concerning a second term and weeks of rumors about his intended running mate on Tuesday morning, announcing that he will seek re-election and that he has tapped Vargrave Richards, four-term Democratic senator from St. Croix, as his running mate.
The announcement, the first of three the governor planned across the territory, came before a crowd of about 200 supporters and high ranking government officials at Gertrudes Restaurant on St. Croix. The mid-morning campaign kickoff on a regular workday broke with the V.I. tradition of unveiling such plans at nighttime political rallies in open-air venues.
After being introduced by his special assistant Ohanio Harris, Turnbull called for support as he seeks renomination as the V.I. Democratic Party's standard bearer. The remainder of the governor's remarks were a recital of what he touted as accomplishments of his administration in its first term.
"Four years ago, I agreed to run for the governorship at a time when this territory faced one of the most serious challenges to its overall operations, and the possibility of a federal takeover was very likely," Turnbull said, describing the government then as being on the brink of bankruptcy.
In 1999, he said, he inherited a debt of more than a billion dollars, and "we faced a critical cash flow shortage, raising the possibility of payless days and massive layoff of government workers." Government workers had not received negotiated wage increases, he said, and vendors were owed a hundred million dollars. While the administration has touted plans to revamp the Internal Revenue Bureau, Turnbull reminded his audience Tuesday that three and a half years ago, income-tax refunds were unpaid and the government faced harsh sanctions for its inability to provide audited financial statements to the federal government.
The governor said on Tuesday that 2001 tax refunds will be paid on time, government employees will continue to get raises, and initiatives will be offered to turn the economy around by promoting a more business-friendly environment which will encourage new investments in the territory.
Turnbull claimed much of the credit for what he termed "great strides" made in critical areas affecting the lives of Virgin Islanders. "We have improved the living conditions and reduced the rent of public housing residents," he said. Hospital autonomy has led to the more efficient operation of the territory's health care facilities, fire houses have been rebuilt, and police officers have been equipped with the tools they need, he said.
"Despite the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, our economy has rebounded and shows great potential for future growth," he said.
He charged that his detractors have criticized without offering viable alternatives and have promoted negativity without objectivity. "At a time of complex and continuing problems, the territory's leadership must be guided by those whose words and actions can be trusted, and by those who see the governorship as a job of service to be done for all the people and not as an opportunity to benefit a specially chosen few," he said.
Looking ahead to four more years, Turnbull set forth an agenda for what he termed the "foundation for a brighter future for all Virgin Islanders." He pledged his commitment to improvements in public education and infrastructure, expansion of law-enforcement capabilities, corrective measures to resolve long-standing wastewater and solid waste problems, and "action to improve the quality of life for all who call these islands home."
The political announcement at what had been billed as a press conference lasted nearly two hours. Introducing his new running mate, Turnbull said, "I know Senator Richards. I have worked well with Senator Richards when he served as president of the 23rd Legislature and at other times and in other capacities." The governor said Richards brings to the ticket a career as an educator, labor leader and legislator.
A former teacher like Turnbull, Richards is a member of the minority bloc in the 24th Legislature. He was president of the 23rd Legislature. Richards has managed to move his political career along, despite not having a college degree. A Source story published during his tenure as Senate president revealed that Richards was one of two senators in the 23 rd Legislature that did not possess college degrees. (See "Education of Legislators varies")
"I am convinced that he has the vision, integrity, temperament and demeanor to make him a valued and trusted partner in the running of the V.I. government," Turnbull said.
The governor is the second person to announce publicly that he is running for the territory's top office in the fall elections. The first was his current lieutenant governor, Gerard Luz James II, who made his announcement at the traditional night-time rally on St. Croix several weeks ago. The two have differed openly on various matters throughout much of their term.
It's anticipated that other aspirants will announce their intentions in coming days. Dr. Cora Christian is expected to throw her hat in the ring this week, and the team of John de Jongh and Paul Arnold is expected to launch its campaign on June 27 in Frederiksted. Michael Bornn has opened campaign headquarters in both districts.
In his comments Tuesday, Richards sought to assure St. Croix voters that a Turnbull-Richards administration will mean a greater focus on the economy of St. Croix, which has recently suffered the loss of port calls by three major cruise lines and is seeing employment scaled back at the Hovensa refinery as catalytic cracker repairs are completed and the new coker is nearing completion.
"I live here, and I feel the pain of fellow St. Croix residents … I know what is going on," Richards said. St. Croix must be a top priority because "we need major attention," he said, calling for the community to come together to fine tune tourism on the island. He claimed credit for playing a key role in moving plans forward for the huge Robin Bay casino and resort development.
Given the rift between Turnbull and James — and between their predecessors, Gov. Roy Schneider and Lt. Gov. Kenneth Mapp — Richards assured the party faithful that after four years in office, he will be seen as "the model lieutenant governor, a model that we have worked together." He spoke of his desire to remain in the background, as "there can only be one governor at a time." The Turnbull-Richards ticket, he said, "represents a high level of respect for the roles of each."
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