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A-level battle!

Audrey, Angella square off for Portia's old seat

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 30, 2017

THE big moment has arrived for councillors Audrey Smith Facey and Angela Brown Burke.

Supporters of the two elected members of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) will gather at Caribbean Palms community centre on Spanish Town Road in St Andrew South Western to decide which of them will replace retired Member of Parliament Portia Simpson Miller in a run-off for the seat today.

Simpson Miller stepped down not only as Leader of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) in Jamaica's House of Representatives in June, but as Member of Parliament for the constituency that she has represented for 35 years overall in that capacity.

The PNP has said that voting will be open to the 1,927 delegates around 10:00 am and close at 4:00 pm.

According to sources with solid ties to the constituency, Smith Facey, who is councillor for the Payne Land Division of the KSAMC, could create an upset in conquering her opponent who is the sitting councillor for the Norman Gardens Division in the constituency of East Kingston and Port Royal.

Although there is a code of conduct that governs the campaign leading up to the election, there have been instances when tempers flared and blood pressures rose, as the fight to secure the nod to represent the seat considered the most secure for the PNP, intensified throughout last week.

Brown Burke, a vice-president of the PNP, ended up in the race after the party's second highest decision making body — the National Executive Council — decided to invite nominations. That emerged after Smith Facey and Karl Blake, councillor for the Greenwich Town Division, also in St Andrew South Western, were the two who expressed an interest in contesting the seat when the deadline for such a declaration arrived.

Smith Facey also questioned the PNP's slapping of itself on the rump, when she suggested that the party sets its rules but breaches them when it suited certain officials.

Added to the drama that stirred the pot of confusion was the public endorsement of Brown Burke, a former mayor of Kingston, by Simpson Miller, who gave her backing by way of a video first circulated on social media.

That move by Simpson Miller drew condemnation from some supporters of Smith Facey who even suggested that it was the first time in the history of Jamaican politics that a former leader was supporting a candidate publicly.

Simpson Miller not only ignored those chastising her for being “petty and parochial” in showing a preference for Brown Burke, but actually hit the campaign trail for the wife of her former general secretary, Paul Burke, urging delegates to vote for someone who will not be rude to them, obviously poking a finger at Smith Facey, an insinuation that has shocked the Payne Land councillor's supporters.

“What Portia has done is one of the most vulgar acts that I have ever seen in Jamaican politics, whether in the PNP or the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party),” a longstanding member of the PNP and former Cabinet minister told the Jamaica Observer last week.

“There is bad blood from Audrey decided to support Lisa Hanna in last year's race for vice presidents, but I didn't know that someone like Portia would go that low.

“Audrey has been there for her over all these years of her political life. She has never let her down. She was one of the architects of her victory over Dr (Peter) Phillips, Omar (Davies) and Dr (Karl) Blythe when she whipped them all in 2006 when PJ (Patterson) stepped down as PNP president.

“In the same way that Portia came through as a councillor and became a Member of Parliament, Audrey is merely doing just that. And for Portia to come now and suggest that Audrey is not good enough, that's wrong. Portia is behaving as if the constituency was willed to her and she has to hand-pick whomever she thinks is right for the seat,” the ex-Cabinet minister said.

That unwritten rule that PNP leaders have cherished since the party was founded in 1938 seemed to have been breached by Simpson Miller, according to two in the party's hierarchy that the Sunday Observer contacted.

In 1969 when Norman Manley was stepping down as the first president of the PNP he did not publicly endorse his son, Michael, who would go on to win a contest over the brilliant lawyer Vivian Blake. Word had it that the elder Manley was uneasy about the level of his son's maturity, and remained wide of pushing a public voice as to who should be in charge. He, too, admired Blake for his competence.

Michael Manley stayed on as PNP president until 1992 when poor health forced him out. Even up to that point Michael Manley did not publicly endorse either of the candidates — Simpson Miller and Percival Noel James (PJ) Patterson — as he believed that to do that as leader would be unethical, although word emerged that he had his preferred choice.

Manley did, however, publicly throw his support behind Ralph Brown to replace him in Kingston Central when it emerged that Brown, a former mayor of Kingston, was the only candidate going up for the seat, despite mutterings from other interests.

In 2006 when Patterson decided to step down, he refused to interfere in the selection of his successor as MP, although the clear favourite emerged in Yale University graduate in medicine Dr Norman Buchanan, who was eventually nominated as the successor, but died of a blood clot before he could face the electorate. That resulted in the elevation of Dr Buchanan's brother, the councillor for the Leamington Division in the Westmoreland Parish Council, Luther Buchanan, the present MP.

Patterson, too, did not endorse a candidate to succeed him as PNP president and prime minister.

The St Andrew South Western constituency is made up of three divisions — Payne Land, Greenwich Town, and Whitfield Town — the third represented by Eugene Kelly in the KSAMC who, the Sunday Observer has learnt, has been campaigning for Brown Burke.

Simpson Miller has also warned constituency voters to avoid being bought for cash — a backhanded way of saying that vote buying not only exists in the JLP which she has often accused of engaging in the practice — but in the belly of her own political party as well.

Also on the campaign trail in the colours of Brown Burke is former president of the Senate Floyd Morris, who has suggested that the constituency needed someone with a “national profile” to represent it, a view that got some support from a retired party executive with whom the Sunday Observer spoke.

“Angela would be better able to pick up the phone and call some people in high places if something was urgently needed for the constituency,” she said. “She is better known, nationally, so it stands to reason that she would get more favourable treatment when it comes to seeking support from corporate donors,” the retired PNP executive member said.

Such a view is not shared by one of the younger members of Smith Facey's support group, who suggested that the days when MPs go, cap in hand, to private donors are coming to a close. “There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we see politics in this country. Not because Audrey doesn't have a PhD doesn't mean that she cannot make a greater impact than another person who might have numerous degrees. In fact, Portia Simpson Miller did not have a degree when she first entered Parliament. It is all about how a representative of the people is able to use, in this case her own initiative and brain, to see to the needs of the people whom she represents, and work towards achieving those goals,” the young activist said.

Party President Phillips has remained silent on the contest, although one of his councillors — Dennis Gordon — declared his support for Smith Facey. The Phillips move, those around him say, is the right thing to do in order to avoid more discord within the political organisation that lost State power in the General Election of February 25, 2016 by one seat.

However, there are indications that the battle lines have been drawn, with Brown Burke's cast also including Phillip Paulwell, her MP for East Kingston and Port Royal who is said to be grooming himself to replace Phillips; trade unionist Granville Valentine and others who have decided to remain low key.

The Smith Facey brigade includes MP Hanna, MP and former national security minister Peter Bunting, former MP and highly-rated public speaker Damion Crawford, and mayor of Spanish Town Norman Scott.

One of the questions that constituents have been asking is should Brown Burke win, what kind of MP-councillor relationship would she have with Smith Facey.