Sept. 11, 2004 By all accounts, Virgin Islands residents came out in record numbers Saturday to vote in the primary election. The results were heartening to some, heartbreaking to others.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen can rest assured that her constituency is behind her. Unofficial results from the Election System of the Virgin Islands at 11 p.m. Saturday night had Christensen winning decisively over Democratic contender Basil C. Ottley Jr.
St. Croix residents came out for Christensen in even higher numbers than the other islands' voters. While preliminary results showed Christensen winning territorywide at 77 percent to 23 percent, St. Croix voters returned an 83-to-16 percent landslide to their native daughter.
The crowded field for St. Croix's Senate seats produced some interesting results. Senate President David S. Jones received just 7.6 percent of the vote and will not advance to November's general election on the Democratic ballot.
Three incumbent Democratic senators – Ronald E. Russell, Douglas E. Canton Jr. and Emmett Hansen II – came in fourth, sixth and seventh among the field of 11 contenders and will be on the ballot in November.
Newcomer Neville James came in first, with an unofficial count of 13.09 percent of the vote, followed by Juan Figueroa Serville with 11.33 percent, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion with 11.01 percent and Michael Thurland 9.45 with percent.
Sen. Luther F. Renee, Gregory A. Bennerson and Gerard "Luz" A. James received too few votes to make the ballot.
In the senator-at-large race, Democrat Craig W. Barshinger walked away with a commanding 54.17 of the unofficial vote, with closest contender William Belardo trailing at 21.09 percent.
Below are highlights of the election, as Source reporters fanned out over the territory Saturday and spoke with voters and politicians. In a related story, unofficial results for all races are listed.
St. Thomas Highlights
With grievances and hopes in hand, hundreds of St. Thomas residents took their power to polls on Saturday to cast their votes in the primary election. The turnout, according to some, was larger than expected.
The Source posed a series of questions to exiting voters at Joseph Gomez School to find out what they are most concerned about as the November election approaches.
A woman who asked that her name be withheld said she wants to see people in office who will "be able to pull this territory into a sense of responsibility," adding "we are not being responsible, and it seems there are elected officials in government for reasons other than to serve the people."
Another woman, who also declined to give her name, said the biggest issues are "government accountability, the environment, and quality of life issues in general."
An elderly woman said that her primary concern is with education.
One young couple, Laurent Dalmida and Tiffany Hyndman, said the fate of Delegate Christensen's CFO bill, legislation now making its way through Congress that would institute an independent officer responsible to rein in government spending, was the major issue this primary.
"Misappropriation and illegal spending have been a major problem," Dalmida said, with Hyndman nodding her agreement.
A St. Thomas teacher who wished to remain anonymous named "corruption and crime" as the territory's top problems.
Sen. Louis Hill was at Gomez School electioneering for his wife, Desiree D. Hill, who was seeking a seat on the Democratic Territorial Committee. "I think the Democratic Party leadership needs to be shaken up," Hill said. He was quick to point out, though, that he feels there were several strong candidates this year.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone had similar concerns. "I am a Democrat first and foremost," he said, adding that the current Democratic leadership lacks vision. He said he hoped his vote would make a difference.
The Rev. Toi A. Barbel Smith, candidate for the Democratic Party member at large, bounced around the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School entrance resplendent in a pink T-shirt emblazoned with her image as she handed out candies. "These are 'testamints,'" she said.
Christensen looked pleased. "So many people are turning out," she said. "I think it's going well."
Around 6 a.m. Saturday morning Ottley, Christensen's competition, was climbing out of his car at Seaborne Airlines, preparing for a St. Croix visit. "Are you excited?" he was asked. "You bet," he said.
Larry Hodge sat outside the school, taking advantage of a shade tree, dispensing flyers for his son, Mark Daniel Hodge, Democratic Party member at-large candidate. "It's a good turnout," Hodge said. "It's orderly, more like a general election than a primary."
Alicia Richards, in a Keith Richards T-shirt, was distributing flyers for her son Keith Richards, the governor's capital projects director, and candidate for re-election to the Board of Education. "Do your thing vote for Keith," she pleaded with a huge smile. "He's very good."
Looking at the people pouring into the school auditorium, Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director, said he was impressed at the size of the crowd. "It makes the whole system more representative," he said. "That's what the whole process is about: making the leaders representative of the people's wish."
Alex "Good News" Randall, running for a district Democratic Party seat, said, "I'm the most interesting candidate in the election," adding his "only election experience was working for Dick Gregory when he ran for president in '68 against that evil George Wallace."
St. Croix Highlights
It was a hot primary day on St. Croix. The temperature soared to 88 degrees with a humidity of 66 percent and heat index of 97. So, with the hot tropical sun scorching the sidewalks and not a cloud in sight, campaign workers tried to keep cool as they made their last-minute pleas for the candidates they were backing.
Saturday's election produced a steady stream of voters to the island's three polling places. At each, turnout was high. By 6 p.m. the count was 3,550, or 19.3 percent of registered voters. That compares to roughly 12 percent in both 2000 and 2002.
Campaign worker Jo Ann Allen Murphy, who was reminding voters to cast a ballot for candidate Craig Barshinger, said the primaries are of utmost importance. "If you don't vote we may get people that we don't want we have to send the best ones to the general election," she said.
James Johnson of Frederiksted was at the Alexander Henderson School polling place. He said new people are needed in the Senate. "People want a drastic change," Johnson said. Present senators "don't have the courage to challenge the administration to make the changes that the grassroots people want you can't lie in the same bed just because you are a Democrat," he said.
Owen and Carroll Johnson were stationed at the Elena Christian School in Christiansted waving signs for candidate Gregory Bennerson. It's time for a change, Owen said, although "there are a few worthy to go back in. We need them for stability."
Neville James, first-time senatorial candidate, was optimistic. "I did what I needed to do and left the rest to the voters," he said.
In his second try for a senatorial seat, Michael Thurland said his campaign strategy was to "shore up neighborhoods I didn't have last time."
St. John Highlights
While many Virgin Islands residents know Maria T. Hodge as a busy St. Thomas attorney and Eddie Bruce as a St. John musician, they are also parents parents whose children want to get involved in Democratic Party po
litics. Hodge and Bruce were among the handful of people approaching voters outside the Julius E. Sprauve School polling place Saturday to ask for votes, in their case for their children.
"I've never done this before for anybody," Hodge said, asking passersby to vote for Mark Hodge for an at-large position on the Territorial Committee.
Bruce requested that voters write in his daughter's name, Bosede Bruce, for a spot on the St. John Democratic Territorial Committee.
At noon, the turnout on St. John appeared to be a steady dribble.
Poll worker Yvonne Wells said that the 34 people from the Coral Bay district who had already voted surpassed the total usual turnout from the eastern end of the island.
On the Cruz Bay side, 62 people had voted by noon.
Most of the people interviewed at the Sprauve School polls said they were there because of the contest between Christiansen and Ottley, her challenger, as well as the four-way race for the at-large seat.
One resident was more interested in the Republican party election. Jerry Runyan, who said he was a Republican, said he came out because he cared about the party system.
Diddi Michael, who proudly gave her age as 84 and a half, said she wanted to vote because she was a "de Lugo Donkey Democrat" from way back. De Lugo is Ron de Lugo, the territory's first delegate to the U.S. Congress. The Donkey Democrats were a political force in power decades ago.
Michael said she planned to vote so she'd have the right to complain.
She was a bit concerned about using the electronic voting machines: "It might be a machine I've never used before," she said.
Bruce assured her that the poll workers would give her advice if she was confused.
While the voting machines may be modern, voters were handed cards that had been around for decades to give to the voting machine attendants. The cards were stamped "Be heard! Vote! Henrita Todman, Supvr. Of Elections." Todman retired quite a few years ago from the Elections Board top job.
Source reporters Aaron Reiff, Molly Morris and Lynda Lohr contributed to this report.
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