The young councillor who will serve as PNP vice-president
Eugene Kelly emerging from behind the scenes to chart future political pathSunday, July 25, 2021
BY HG HELPS
Nationally, Eugene Kelly's name is not one that would readily resonate among the masses. But it would always echo within People's National Party (PNP) quarters.
He, a history and marketing graduate at the tertiary level, and certified real estate agent, will become vice-president of the PNP in less than two months when delegates of the party proceed to ratify his and the names of three others to serve as Mark Golding's vice-presidents during the organisation's annual conference in St Andrew, all things considered.
The former aide to now retired Prime Minister and PNP President Portia Simpson Miller will join Richard Azan, Ian Hayles, both former Members of Parliament; and fellow councillor Norman Scott, the mayor of Spanish Town, as second-tier leaders in the embattled 83-year-old PNP, following a contentious journey that saw incumbent VPs Dr K Wykeham McNeill, Phillip Paulwell, Damion Crawford, and Mikael Phillips hopping off the train before its scheduled conference stop at the National Arena in September. The four resigned just over a week ago in a extension of the discord that has increased in the party since Golding defeated Lisa Hanna for president last November.
Kelly, aged 40, is councillor for the PNP-dominated Whitfield Town Division in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation. He has been politically active for over two decades, having joined the party as a teenager when he was deputy head boy at St Jago High School over 20 years ago, near to where he originated at Ensom City in Spanish Town, Jamaica's capital before Kingston.
It will mark the first time in the PNP's history that two councillors will serve as vice-presidents, simultaneously.
“Jamaica might not know me but I should like to think that I should be very well known within the circles of the PNP. You don't be an assistant to the party leader and not be known,” Kelly said in reference to Simpson Miller, whose St Andrew South Western constituency embraces Whitfield Town as one of three division, the others being Payne Land, and Greenwich Town.
“I have also served 13 years on the party executive, from which 11 members are elected each year from the NEC (National Executive Council) and for most of those 13 years I have come in the top three. A number of persons have always been impressed with my representation in respect of local government issues, and so I was approached by a few councillors, a broad-based group that included people from Clarendon, St Elizabeth and other areas. They said, 'Yes, Scotty is there, but we also want you to be there as a powerful voice as we push forward for local government elections'. That is one of the things that motivated me. I would also like to think of myself as coming out of Portia's schoolroom and the concerns for the poor and downtrodden, and the party workers,” Kelly said.
Throughout the late-week interview with the Jamaica Observer, Kelly kept emphasising the impact that Simpson Miller has had on his life and career, paving the way for him to be where he is now.
“My first political job was office manager for the Patriots (PNP affiliate), when I was about to finish up university, and I went straight from that job to become special assistant to Portia Simpson Miller in January 2002. I served as her assistant in tourism, then local government and for less than a year when she became prime minister the first time.
“She encouraged me to run for councillor and it happened in a strange way. I was region four chairman for the YO and I remember when a group of persons came from the constituency to see her. I, as her special assistant, had to facilitate the meeting. Not knowing what their plan was, while I was sitting in the meeting toward the back of the room and taking notes, they said to her that they found a candidate, as Basil Gordon, who at the time was the longest-serving PNP councillor for 30-odd years, was retiring.
“She said to them, great, who is it? and they pointed to me at the back of the room. I looked behind me at the wall to see where this candidate they are talking about was. The next thing I know the meeting ended and my mouth was still open in shock. So that's how it began. I went on to win the division in the election of December 2007 and I have been councillor for Whitfield Town Division ever since,” he said.
Although he completed a second bachelor's degree in marketing from the University College of the Caribbean, which followed the Bachelor of Arts in History, with a minor in politics from The University of the West Indies, Kelly is not one to be up in your face in projecting himself. He, instead, will dive deep into putting in the work from behind the scenes as long as the party will benefit.
That commitment to party has even seen him postpone the completion of a master's degree programme in hospitality and tourism management after one year, to focus on party matters, including an election campaign. But he has promised himself to complete the course of study soon.
Kelly, a former vice-president of the PNP Youth Organisation, had shunned a previous opportunity to contest the St Andrew South Western seat when Simpson Miller stepped down in 2017. The two other councillors in the constituency had indicated an interest, but in the end, it was Audrey Facey of the Payne Land Division who was left in the race with virtual constituency outsider Angela Brown Burke, the then councillor for the Norman Gardens Division. He supported Brown Burke, even when he was being urged to step forward by some in his division and elsewhere.
“When the vacancy came in south west, of the three councillors, I was the only one who didn't put forward my name seeking to be MP, because I had worked very closely with Comrade Brown Burke at the council when she was mayor and I was sufficiently impressed with her that I believed she would carry on the legacy of Portia Simpson Miller. I am a strong local government person. Would I consider becoming a MP in the future? Most certainly.
“But now persons have been questioning and limiting my VP candidacy to loyalty to Mark Golding. I came out very early for Mark, but it is bigger than that. It represents that the parish councillors are taking a greater role in the running of the party, and the fact that local government elections are coming up, it would serve the party better for councillors to be a part of the senior leadership of the party,” said Kelly, who has served on the boards of institutions like the CHASE Fund, Pesticides Control Authority, and Jamaica Mortgage Bank.
He is the grandson of Dr Edward Fagan, one of the first elected Members of the House of Representatives in 1944, after he defeated PNP president Norman Manley in the St Andrew Eastern seat, running for the Jamaica Labour Party. Dr Fagan later joined the PNP and served as mayor of Kingston from 1952-53.
Fagan Avenue in St Andrew, where the Jamaica Observer was born, is named in honour of Dr Fagan.
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