SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Former Mayor of Black River Everton Fisher is actively encouraging attorney Zuleika Jess to consider challenging for the right to represent the People's National Party (PNP) in St Elizabeth North Eastern at the next parliamentary election.
Long considered a stronghold of the PNP, St Elizabeth North Eastern was lost to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Delroy Slowley in 2020 — among the shock results of that election, which the JLP won by a landslide.
"Based on the feedback I am getting on the ground, there is vast support for her among people who may not be delegates but are PNP," Fisher, who is a longstanding councillor for the Balaclava Division, told the Jamaica Observer on Monday, August 8, 2022.
However Jess, who lost to ruling JLP giant Mike Henry in the 2020 parliamentary election in Clarendon Central, said she was not committed to any such move.
"I can't confirm that I have any interest in North East [St Elizabeth]," Jess told the Observer by telephone Monday.
Interest was stirred Sunday night when Jess entered the PNP's divisional conference in Siloah, accompanied by a large, loud, fast-moving entourage. She was hoisted on to the platform by jubilant supporters, raising eyebrows and a fair degree of anger.
Hosted by Councillor Audie Myers (Siloah Division), the meeting was disrupted for several minutes after Jess's entry with some Comrades loudly protesting what they clearly considered to be disrespectful behaviour.
Calm gradually returned following strong words from Myers and others.
However, Councillor Mugabe Kilimanjaro (Ipswich Division), whose address had been disrupted, argued that Comrades should not be unduly concerned by what he called the "energy" of some Comrades.
"I love the energy," Kilimanjaro declared. "It is the same energy that is going to bring out the votes ... we nuh need nuh dedi dedi PNP," he said.
But a clearly perturbed Ethnie Miller Simpson, who is aspiring to challenge the JLP's Audley Shaw in Manchester North Eastern, spoke of the need for "discipline" in word and deed among Comrades. Miller Simpson, an educator and PNP National Executive Council member, told Comrades that the PNP to which she was introduced many years ago was a party which embraced discipline and there was clear need to get back to those principles.
Jess, who spoke at the Siloah meeting for several minutes, assured her audience that she had no interest in divisive behaviour.
She reiterated that stance to the Observer on Monday, insisting that "I am not interested in internal divisions".
Jess, whose bid to contest for a vice-presidential post in the PNP was recently rejected by the party executive because of what was declared to be eligibility rules, said the nature of her entrance to the Siloah Divisional meeting had not been by design.
"I can say, in all honesty, that it was not planned, I was as surprised as anyone else..." she said of the move by supporters to hoist her on to the platform. She had not intended to be "disruptive" in any way, she said.
Regarding the St Elizabeth North Eastern seat, she was adamant that "I am a plain and straightforward person... I cannot say I have an interest in North East and I have absolutely no intention of getting involved in any internal selection contest at this time."
However, Fisher insisted on Monday that he considered Jess to be the person with the qualities to defeat Member of Parliament Slowley whenever a parliamentary election is called.
This was particularly the case, he said, since former MP Kern Spencer, who is chairman of the PNP's Region Five, had been, in his view, badly damaged by the so-called Cuban light bulb scandal of more than a decade ago. Though Spencer was eventually cleared of corruption charges in court, the issue had forced him out of competitive politics.
But increasingly over recent months, Spencer has been spoken of on the ground as the man most likely to go up against Slowley, who had defeated Basil Waite to take St Elizabeth North Eastern in 2020. The JLP's victory in St Elizabeth North Eastern was its first in that constituency since 1980.
Some supporters have also credited Spencer with "doing good organisational work" since he took over as chairman of the PNP's Region Five (St Elizabeth and Manchester).
Arguing that Jess had been among the few PNP candidates to show improved numbers in the 2020 election "against a giant like Mike Henry", Fisher said she could "bring a new dimension to the PNP's presence in North East".
After a succession of men as MPS and candidates in St Elizabeth North Eastern, Fisher said gender was also an important consideration, with many Comrades yearning "for a fresh face and a woman".
Said he: "I want a candidate with integrity who will be able to relate to strong family values."
Fisher, who lost to Waite in an internal contest in the build-up to the 2020 election, told the Observer that he had no further interest in parliamentary representation.
However, he said, he had told Councillor Myers that "if it comes to the point [should Jess not be interested], I will support him".
Efforts to reach Spencer and Myers for comments failed on Monday.