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I’m no soft, uptown boy

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com
Saturday, June 04, 2016

Former Minister of Justice Mark Golding is insisting that his privileged background and pigmentation will not prevent him from managing a constituency that has been stigmatised as one in which ‘Don’ rule is common.

He has also brushed aside the view that he wears a ‘uptown boy, softie tag’, and is bent on proving that he is made of sterner stuff.

Golding, 50, the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, has made himself available to become chairman of the People’s National Party’s (PNP’s) St Andrew Southern constituency organisation, which would ultimately lead to him contesting a by-election to become Member of Parliament (MP) when the incumbent, Dr Omar Davies, retires from elective politics.

Golding’s only opponent in the PNP-dominated constituency so far is former Cabinet minister Colin Campbell, although another person is likely to declare his interest within days, the Jamaica Observer has been told.

But questions have been raised about Golding’s capacity to deal with some of the so-called ‘Dons’ of the area, and to raise himself above the level of potential manipulation.

"I am a fortunate person. I was born to family that was relatively well off in the context of Jamaica," Oxford University graduate Golding told last week’s Observer Press Club.

"I have benefitted from excellent education and all of that. In terms of my experience growing up, I grew up on campus (University of the West Indies, Mona) in the 1970s. My neighbours were people like (Professor of Economics) George Beckford and other so-called radicals of the era. I was friends with their children — we are still friends, we have a campus kids fraternity or group that we stay in touch — and progressive ideas I was exposed to throughout my upbringing," he stated.

"My wife is from August Town. I have a very small family on my parents’ side, but on my wife’s side we have a very large family and I have been exposed to the life of the inner-city through my family connections," Golding added.

"Can I handle the ‘Donman’ thing?" Golding asked of himself, a delayed reaction to a question posed.

"It’s important that the constituency be run for the benefit of all constituents and all parts of the constituency must feel that they have effective representation, and the system by which patronage is dispensed through one or two individuals who control a particular community is not one which I think is democratic or which empowers people. It’s one that the people of South St Andrew want to move away from," stated the commercial lawyer and founding director of the investment bank Dehring, Bunting and Golding, which was bought out by Scotiabank.

"Is it at large now. Why would they want to move away from it. "Is it going on now?" interjected Campbell, who was the other guest during the hour-long Press Club.

"I would say that it has been largely reduced and significant improvement has been made in that area, and I don’t think they want to see a regression," Golding responded.

As for Campbell, he believes that certain individuals who have been labelled as ‘Dons’ should not be disregarded, but rather kept in the fold as part of the plan to improve the constituency.

"I want to speak about this so-called Donmanship, because it is a line that is being run on the ground down there. South St Andrew is a very strong PNP constituency. It has one section — Rose Town around to Craig Town and Rema (Wilton Gardens) — that was JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) and you know the history of the 1980s and where we are today with that," Campbell said.

"A lot of persons who support me, it is being said that its indicative of the return of the Dons. I have people like George Phang, George Johnson and a lot of the guys who grew up there and have been successful and have come back into the area.

"The Donmanship is not something that is sustainable in 2016. That has gone. But there is a role for senior figures in the constituency who have been there, who helped as a layer of community leadership, who helped to resolve a lot of issues that, had they been allowed to fester, might have ended up worse. So I think respect is due to those persons; respect is due to George Phang every day because he is in the community working with the youngsters, keeping them disciplined. He heads the football programme and he works with the community," Campbell said.

"So I am not distancing myself from him in any way, shape, or form. Anything I can do to be supportive of his work in the community is something that I am prepared to do. But when it comes to the issue of distribution of benefits, in the first place, we have Government agencies that must implement stuff. I am not too much into the funnel from MPs into the constituencies in a direct way, because in the end it’s not good," Campbell argued.

"What you need to do is ensure development, ensure fairness, and ensure transparency. So there is no idea of returning or any regression. What we are going to do is build on the institutions and make South St Andrew as strong as it has ever been," said the 62-year-old Campbell.

At no time during the discussion did Golding refer to any so-called ‘Don’ by name.

Davies, 69, who has been fending off illness, plans to give up his role as constituency chairman around August, and ultimately resign as MP, which will necessitate a by-election.

Since it was formed in 1967 following a boundary alignment, the seat has become a virtual fiefdom of the Opposition PNP. Former Minister of Finance Vernon Arnett, who served as MP for St Andrew Central from 1959 to 1967, and after whom the most populous community of Arnett Gardens is named, is the only man to have lost a contested election in the constituency, riding on the PNP train.

Former PNP Treasurer Arnett, who replaced Noel ‘Crab’ Nethersole as finance minister after the latter’s death in 1959, narrowly lost the first election in the constituency to the Jamaica Labour Party’s Eugene Parkinson (3,522 to 4,170), but since then the PNP has won every election in which it has put up a candidate.

High-profile lawyer Anthony Spaulding, after whom the sports complex in the heart of Arnett Gardens is named, opened the PNP’s floodgate to 11 victories overall in the general election of 1972 when he narrowly got by Parkinson by polling 3,658 votes to his opponent’s 3,556.

But that was only the warm-up for the long run of wins, as by the 1976 general poll Spaulding triumphed with a whopping 13,927 votes to 3,131 for Carol Ramsey in a constituency election that had a 99.76 per cent turnout, which, like the next election, was riddled with electoral malpractices.

That election was also preceded by the ‘political cleansing’ of the area a year earlier, when several JLP supporters were virtually chased from their homes. Many of them relocated to Spanish Town, resulting in some sections of Spanish Town now firmly JLP territory.

Spaulding triumphed again in the bloody General Election of 1980 that was won by the JLP, but in the snap election of 1983, the PNP’s absence opened the door for the JLP’s Earl Spencer to warm the seat until 1989, when Hartley ‘Bobby’ Jones, like Spaulding now deceased, thumped Spencer (14,798 to 5,092).

Jones increased his votes by the March 30, 1993 General Election to 17,074 in a major landslide over Desmond McKenzie, now MP for Kingston Western and minister of local government and community development, who garnered 5,493 votes.

However, by December of that same year, Jones was coaxed by the PNP hierarchy into ‘retiring’ from active politics to allow Davies to contest a by-election, in order for him to assume the role of finance minister in keeping with the Jamaican Constitution that the person holding that post must be an elected official.

Davies has held the seat since, registering crushing victories over the JLP’s beating stick Dennis Messias, who has suffered the indignity of losing to Davies six straight times (including the 1993 by-election) — the longest losing streak by any candidate in Jamaican national elections.



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