Nine senatorial hopefuls took their seats at the University of the Virgin Islands conference center Monday night to present themselves and their platforms as the school’s Institute for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness hosted a Senatorial Forum.
Haldane Davies, vice president of business development and innovation, moderated the event with four rounds of questions, the last of which were asked by audience members.
On the stage were Alma Francis-Heyliger, Anthneil “Bobby” Thomas, Bruce Flamon, Carla Joseph, Delores Todmann, Irvin Mason, Margaret Price, Sherry-Ann Francis, and Stedman Hodge, Jr. On the program, but not in attendance were Donna Frett-Gregory, Jean Forde, Marvin Blyden and Steven Payne.
Davies opened with an explanation of the format. Candidates began with a three-minute introduction, followed by a two-minute response to a question from the moderator. The audience participated by submitting their own questions.
Later, the candidates made their closing statements.
Heyliger spoke of her years as a radio talk show host and how her communication with the public allows her to consider problems in the territory and their solutions. She addressed the GERS situation, said the Legislature must find a way to monetize the VIGN infrastructure, and proposed the rebranding of WICO to promote the cultural aspects of the Virgin Islands. As did all the candidates, she addressed the issue of crime and its effects on tourism. She favors the creation and regulation of medical marijuana laws for the territory and says we must step up law enforcement in general, including a modern forensic crime lab.
Delores Todmann positioned herself as an educator and an ordained minister.
“I am not a politician. I have been sent here by God to help the people of the Virgin Islands,” she said.
She said she would emphasize education on the cultural aspects of the territory, literacy programs for adults, improved family services and the pursuit of funding for increased services for the mentally ill, the homeless and the disabled population.
Stedman Hodge, Jr., has degrees in marketing, business administration and a master’s degree in government management and project management. He is an active member of the V.I. National Guard and has served in Kuwait and Afghanistan. He began his public service as a legislative aide for Sen. Arturo Watlington, Jr. and has stayed involve in community service ever since.
Irvin Mason is a small business owner who stressed fiscal oversight and enforcement of the established law while considering new laws that make sense in 2018.
“We as leaders need to check our egos at the door,” he said. “We need individuals to focus on transparency in government and have the input of the people before we make decisions.”
Carla Joseph is a graduate of UVI and an active member of the Memorial Moravian Church. Currently working for the V.I. Housing Authority, she references her upbringing in Bovoni and Oswald Harris Court communities when advocating for those in public housing. She is proud of fully utilizing housing grant money from the Federal government. The six elements in her senatorial agenda are revenue generation, saving the pension system, housing, healthcare, the empowering of our youth and accountability.
Sherry-Ann Francis, armed with a degree in political science graduated cum laude from Norfolk State University. Her “Three E Platform” targets improvements in the economy via diversification and support for small business, solve the problems with the GERS, and develop a revised health care plan. The second “E” is the expansion of career and technical education in the territory, with the necessary funding to support such efforts. Finally, she endorses law enforcement including a state of the art forensic lab.
Margaret Price, a teacher retired from Charlotte Amalie High School, is now involved in St. Thomas Recovery. She was quick to focus on Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s emergency declarations, questioning valid reasons for them and suggesting they might be to skirt the usual funding procedures, allowing less oversight in the use of emergency funds.
After “Bobby” Thomas’ early years growing up in the “Old Tutu” community, he earned a degree from Florida A&M University. Upon his return he immersed himself in community activities and spent 24 years in the National Guard. His action plan includes making home ownership more affordable, broadening the scope of our educational system, diversifying the economy, mentoring youth and saving the GERS system.
Bruce Flamon’s says his experience in law enforcement, taxi driving and various entrepreneurial endeavors help him to understand the needs of the people of the territory as well as the needs of local businesses to grow. He would focus on the reduction of crime and proper enforcement and establish a school to allow truck drivers to earn a CDL here on the island.
Their approaches to how to reduce crime varied. Some said lifting the economy will lower crime. Others said the territory cannot grow the economy without first reducing the crime rate. All agreed that solving the GERS problem must be a priority but no one offered a specific plan.