If there was any doubt that former Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush would stand for election in West Bay in May, he made it clear during a rally Tuesday night.
He affirmed his candidacy before a crowd of about 300 people and the new interim chairwoman of the United Democratic Party, Tessa Johnson Bodden, at the four-way stop in West Bay.
Ms Johnson Bodden’s appointment is to be confirmed during the UDP’s party conference before the May general election.
In announcing his candidacy, despite the police investigation hanging over him, Mr. Bush appeared to leave some doubt as to whether he would lead the UDP onto the May ballot, saying the leadership issue would be dealt with during the party conference.
“The chair, the deputies and the new executive, the general council and the party leader will be installed at the party conference,” said Mr. Bush, a member of the Legislative Assembly from West Bay and UDP party leader.
He said there would be no name change for the party but hinted at some form of re-branding, suggesting they should be referred to as the national United Democratic Party.
On the matter of a new chairwoman for the UDP, Mr. Bush hailed Ms Johnson Bodden as a “public service icon” and said the UDP was fortunate to have someone of her calibre and experience in such an important post.
“I believe Ms Bodden is well placed to bring to our party the skills that are needed for a dynamic and challenged party,” he said. “She has the skills to give us direction and the skills that Cayman needs in a time when the country is challenged. We together as a team can and will make the political landscape a better and more efficient place.”
Mr. Bush also paid tribute to Ms Johnson Bodden’s father, the late Sir Vassel Johnson, Cayman’s only knight and one of the men who helped forge Cayman’s financial services sector.
“I am proud that one of Sir Vassel’s daughters could get involved and could guide us,” Mr. Bush said during an interview with Ms Johnson Bodden and Cayman Free Press prior to the public meeting.
Mr. Bush noted that he had served as a back-bench MLA in Sir Vassel’s government during his first term in elected office from 1984 through 1988 and that he admired and respected him and his wife, Lady Rita.
Ms Johnson Bodden has been active in a host of nonprofit and government agencies.
She served as the first chairman of Cayman’s National Drug Council from 1992 through 2000 and in the past has been involved on various boards, including the Leo Club of Grand Cayman, Cayman Prep and High School and the Marine Conservation Board.
More recently she has served as the vice president of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, as patron of Cayman HospiceCare, as an elder of the South Sound United Church and as president of Cayman’s chapter of The International Wine & Food Society. Although she still holds many of those positions, Ms Bodden Johnson resigned her post as vice president of the National Trust when she decided to accept UDP party chairmanship to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest.
Ms Johnson Bodden said she accepted the chairmanship position after Mr. Bush asked her earlier this year if she would.
“I was totally shocked to be honest,” she said. “I haven’t been political and it was unexpected.”
She said she told Mr. Bush she would have to think about it and after some thought, prayer and consultation with family members, she accepted.
“I’ve always thought you can’t live in a community and not help, not assist if you’re in a position to do so,” she said. “I will do as much as I can.”
Ms Johnson Bodden said she intends to assert herself in the role of chairwoman.
“I think anyone who has served on boards with me knows I’m very tenacious in getting what I want,” she said, adding that she made it clear to Mr. Bush that she has certain beliefs that won’t be compromised.
Mr. Bush said that Ms Johnson Bodden would concentrate on the administration of the party.
“She is not a politician and has no desire of being a politician,” he said.
By providing a good governance structure to the UDP, Ms Johnson Bodden said it could help lead the party to stability and prosperity. Mr. Bush said Ms Johnson Bodden could help make the party more united.
“Our party machinery has to be brought up to a level where it’s more efficient … and more business like,” he said, noting that in the past, there have been elements of the UDP making decisions or making public statements that were contrary to the party’s agreed position.
He said Ms Johnson Bodden would serve as an important conduit of information to ensure everyone in the party is on the same page.
Mr. Bush said having Ms Johnson Bodden in the UDP chairmanship role was not only good for the party, but good for the country as well.
“All of us are more than pleased to have someone of the calibre of Tessa be our chair,” he said. “It’s a new day for Cayman.”
Other UDP matters
As for the next election, Mr. Bush said in last week’s interview before the political rally that he knew that for the general election in May the UDP would be running four candidates in West Bay, six in George Town and four in Bodden Town. He said that the party might run a candidate in North Side.
“We know we won’t be running 18 candidates; we know that,” he said.
Mr. Bush said there were no shortage of candidates in most districts.
“We’ve had several independent candidates – who have declared independence – wanting to join us, but in the districts they want to be candidates, we already have a full slate.”
With regard to the political party system, which has been the subject of much criticism in recent years, Mr. Bush remained resolute.
“The party system is here to stay,” he said. “You can’t run the wheels of government without organisation and that kind of organisation is a party or a team or whatever you call it.”