Nov. 17, 2002 – It's finally over. The absentee votes are tallied, and the people of the Virgin Islands have the same governor, a new Democratic-dominated Legislature, the same at-large senator, the same delegate to Congress, and some Senate fixtures put out to pasture.
There will be no gubernatorial runoff, although runner-up candidate John de Jongh made a better showing in the absentee votes than in the Nov. 5 elections. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull squeaked by with 50.15 percent of vote, attaining the 50 percent plus one he needed to avoid a runoff election. (See Absentee votes clinch re-election for Turnbull".)
And if the atmosphere in the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections office where absentee ballots were counted on Saturday is any indication, there will be new energy in the 25th Legislature from the freshman Democrats, who were joking with the old guard on and off during the long day.
The new Legislature will be notable for its absences, too. For the first time in 14 years, the Senate chambers will not resonate with the rhetoric of eight-term senator Alicia "Chucky" Hansen or seven-term senator Adelbert Bryan, both of St. Croix. Bryan lost to his nephew, staff aide and fellow-Independent Citizens Movement member Raymond "Usie" Richards by 135 votes. Hansen stepped down from her Senate seat to run unsuccessfully for governor.
On St. Thomas, challenger Shawn-Michael Malone led Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole by 19 votes in the Nov. poll tally. With the absentees added, he wound up with a 50-votes spread, including 12 absentee votes from those voting for the Democratic symbol, or straight party ticket.
Although the tabulation process started shortly after 9 a.m. on Saturday, it quickly became bogged down in conflict. For starters, only three of the seven board members — Alecia Wells, the chair, Donna F. Roberts and Phyllis Massac — were present, with four needed to constitute a quorum.
Board members George Blackhall and Kevin Rodriguez were off-island on Saturday, and Lawrence Boschulte did not appear.
Malone is a board member until the end of the year but had not taken his seat as such because he is a candidate in the election. Wells asked him to sit so there would be a quorum. Cole immediately challenged the legality of a candidate sitting on the board, calling it a conflict of interest. As the board's legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General Terrylyn Smock, had not yet arrived, Wells then telephoned the St. Croix board's counterpart, Assistant Attorney General Douglas Jurgens, for advice.
Jurgen said Malone could sit so the board could establish a quorum and then recuse himself from taking part in its proceedings. He said the fact of Malone recusing himself would not negate the fact that a quorum had been established. Malone did just that, and immediately made a successful motion to recuse himself.
Malone and Cole agreed the counting had to begin. Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. then objected to the number of candidate representatives in the office. Smock, by then present, referred to the V.I. Code, saying each candidate may represent him or herself or have one designated representative, and each political party may have three representatives.
Announcing she was catching the midnight ferry to St. John no matter what happened, St. Johnian Wells presided as the first ballot box was opened about 10:40 a.m. The three board members slit open the manilla mailing envelope, then slit open the affidavit, reading each name aloud, then placed the white ballots in a box to be transferred to one of four tables, each with four counters to do the actual counting.
Absentee ballots can be mailed, hand delivered or faxed in to the Election System offices. When the ballots are opened, the names on the affidavits are read aloud to counter duplication of votes. The board found one and watchers from de Jongh's camp caught two more. Leslie Comissiong said in one case the name bore the same birth date, address and signature.
The process is not a speedy one, and there were 796 official ballots to tabulate in the St. Thomas-St. John district.
By early afternoon, it appeared that the gap between incumbent Cole and newcomer Malone was widening. In the morning the two were kibitzing with White, a majority colleague of Cole's, who was uncharacteristically diplomatic in his choice of words. "I wish them both luck," he said. "Cole is my good friend, and Shawn is like a nephew to me. I saw a rabbit's foot in Cole's hand when he came in, but then Shawn pulled out two four-leaf clovers from his pocket."
After the actual counting ended, shortly after 7 p.m., senators, watchers and news media personnel milled around the sterile office waiting for the official announcement of the count.
Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, David Jones, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Roosevelt David and senator- Louis Hill paced the halls or sat huddled in conversation throughout the afternoon and evening, happily offering opinions but little solid information on how the 25th Legislature would shape up. Democrats Jones and David said it will be one of accord and respect, two elements often absent on the floor of the 24th Legislature.
Both senators have been rumored for the 25th Legislature presidency. Neither denied the option would be a welcome one, but neither would say anything more than basically, "if elected, I will serve."
Jones said the new Senate will be more proactive, more transparent and, with a Democratic governor and a Democratic majority, more productive. Turnbull has been at odds with the 24th Legislature for the last two years of his first term, largely because of its over-appropriating of funds.
Roosevelt said the majority would adhere to the party platform put forth on the 2002 Democratic slate. "We will work in harmony with the governor to accomplish our goals," he said.
Gubernatorial candidate Hansen's running mate, Eddie Donoghue, who is also the chief researcher on her staff, spent the day at the St. Thomas office observing the counting. "I think we got the bronze medal," he said of their third-place finish among the eight teams running for governor and lieutenant governor. "The outcome surprised even me," the longtime legislative aide and popular local thespian said with a smile. But he added, "This is the last time in politics for me."
When all was said and done, Cole was graceful, and Malone was grateful. "I'm pleased, but not all that surprised, at the count," Malone, who at 34 will be the youngest member of the Senate, said. He, like senator-elect Hill, was part of the seven-candidate Democratic slate for the district. "I look forward to being the youngest," he said. "I'm ready."
Malone is no political newcomer. He resigned from Delegate Donna M. Christensen's staff to run for the Senate and has been active in Democratic Party politics since he was in high school.
He said election reform is going to be one of his main issues. "The Legislature has gone at this before, but it's been piecemeal," he said, as John Abramson Jr., elections supervisor, has repeatedly pointed out. Malone noted that in the federal government, an employee running for public office must step down. "That is to quit, not to take a leave of absence," he stressed.
Cole was philosophical about his loss. "That's politics," he said. "That's the beauty of the Democratic system. The voters have spoken." He continued, "I guess it's time for me to move on. I want to find something in my field — maybe even getting my law degree."
Then, smiling a bit, he said, "Now, I want to spend some time with my 15-month-old son." Cole said he accepted the voters' decision and wouldn't ask for a recount. "As of right now," he said, "I don't
see myself running for office again."
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