A record 63 candidates will contest the Cayman Islands general election on May 24 after a frantic day of nominations across the country generated some surprises.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who registered to run in Red Bay, was one of several candidates to confound expectations as the election cards fell into place late in the day.
The premier, who had previously announced his intention to run in George Town Central, acknowledged that the new single-member constituencies had sparked a game of “cat and mouse” between the two main parties – his Progressives and the Cayman Democratic Party – as well as some of the independent groups.
As the clock ticked toward the 3 p.m. deadline for the submission of nominations, many of the Progressives’ candidates had still not emerged.
Mr. McLaughlin said the decisions on who would run where had been made much earlier, but the strategy on the day was to wait it out and not give opponents the chance to pick and choose their districts based on the Progressives’ decisions.
Some interesting races emerged in the 19 single-member districts – Mr. McLaughlin against Denniston Tibbetts, the brother of his political mentor Kurt Tibbetts, in Red Bay; Finance Minister Marco Archer against independent Kenneth Bryan in George Town Central; and Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton against his former colleague Alva Suckoo and independent candidate Mario Rankin, both running as independents, in Newlands.
There were fewer surprises in West Bay, where CDP leader McKeeva Bush and his team were out in force.
Mr. Bush said the country needs change. “We have fallen back in far too many areas. The big issue is that Caymanian families are falling through the cracks,” he said.
The Progressives party registered 15 candidates and is supporting independent Tara Rivers. The CDP registered 11 candidates, but has backed independents in other districts. The rest of the nominations were from independents.
The field of 63 candidates is believed to be a modern-day record in the Cayman Islands. It surpasses the previous total number of candidates in both the 2000 and 2013 elections, where 57 people contested the polls.
The battle for George Town
Premier McLaughlin sprang a late surprise when he showed up at the Seafarers Hall just after 1 p.m. to reveal that he would be contesting the Red Bay district.
He will run against Mr. Tibbetts, the brother of retiring former Progressives leader Kurt Tibbetts, and independent candidate Frank McField.
Immediately after signing his papers, Mr. McLaughlin told the Compass, “It’s a tremendous sense of responsibility and a new commitment each time and, having done it four times and now been premier, I know what that commitment really means.”
Explaining the switch to Red Bay, he said he had been anxious to avoid a potentially nasty personal campaign with his former assistant Kenneth Bryan, who, he said, had been engaged in negative tactics targeting him personally in George Town Central for the last 18 months.
“The people that I have represented for 16 years now deserve a campaign that focuses on the issues and not on personal differences,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I am quite confident that I could successfully contest a seat anywhere in George Town.”
Frank McField, another candidate to switch from George Town Central to Red Bay, was the first to arrive to register his nomination at the Seafarers Hall at 8:01 a.m.
Mr. Tibbetts showed up at 11 a.m. with his wife Pam and daughter Denise and a small crowd of supporters, including some of the CDP’s other George Town candidates.
He said it was a “privilege and an honor” to run as the CDP’s candidate in Red Bay.
Bryan vs. Archer
Another surprise was the Progressives’ decision to run Finance Minister Marco Archer, who was thought to be contesting either George Town East or Prospect, in George Town Central. Mr. Archer faces a one-on-one contest with independent candidate Mr. Bryan.
“I am from George Town Central … I learned to swim between Hog Sty Bay and Dora Bay,” Mr. Archer said. “[The district] gave me great support in 2013 and I’m looking forward to that again.”
As late as 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, it was clear that Mr. Bryan thought he would be running against Mr. McLaughlin, his former boss. However, the former Progressives political aide indicated he was ready to take on all comers.
“[The election] is really about me and the voters,” Mr. Bryan said. As for the premier, he said: “I wish him well.”
North, East, West, South GT
There were a few surprises as well in George Town South, where Progressives backbencher Roy McTaggart was expected to run. The party instead chose longtime supporter Barbara Conolly to contest the seat. She will face Cayman Democratic Party candidate Mike Adam, as well as independents Catherine Tyson, Alric Lindsay and Paul Hurlston in a crowded candidate field.
That means no incumbent politician is running in George Town South and four of the five candidates, Mr. Adam being the only exception, have never run for political office before this year.
In George Town East, Roy McTaggart, running with the Progressives, will fight it out with the CDP chairwoman Tessa Bodden and two independent candidates, Kenrick Webster and Sharon Roulstone.
Mr. McTaggart, who ran last time as an independent backed by the Coalition for Cayman, said he was proud to run with the Progressives this time around. “I am excited about it; I think we have a strong record to run on and I’m delighted to run with this team.”
He said he had looked at his own numbers from the last election, before selecting George Town East as his constituency. “I believe I have strong support in the district,” he said.
Another surprise candidate appeared in George Town North, as local businesswoman Pearlina McGaw-Lumsden registered as a CDP candidate. She will face Progressives incumbent Joey Hew and local attorney Karin Thompson, an independent.
Only George Town West went according to pre-election plan, with independents Ellio Solomon and Dennie Warren, Jr. facing off against CDP candidate Jonathan Piercy and the Progressives’ David Wight.
The district of Prospect is shaping up to be a colorful three-way fight between former radio talk-show host Austin Harris, CayBrew manager Matthew Leslie and Lucille Seymour, one of the founding members of the Progressives.
Mr. Leslie was the first candidate to arrive at the Moravian Church Hall on Poindexter Road, just after 9 a.m. He told the Compass he believed he was the “front runner” in the race, having seen some early polling numbers, but was taking nothing for granted.
He said his campaign would be centered around putting the needs of ordinary Caymanians first.
Mr. Leslie said he wanted to continue the work he had done “on the outside” to help deal with social issues in the community. “We are going to run an aggressive campaign, get out there to the people and make sure they understand and are educated about what my plans are,” he said.
Austin Harris, the former host of the CrossTalk and Straight Talk radio shows, arrived to submit his nomination papers around 10 a.m..
He said he was feeling nervous but relieved that the nomination had come. “It’s a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to the road ahead,” he said. “I’m taking nothing for granted, but I’m very encouraged by the responses I have received from constituents in the Prospect district.”
He said the issues that he had encountered as a political talk-show host had not changed over the last decade.
“That tells me that government has failed. I believe I have the capability and credibility to deal with those issues,” he said.
Ms. Seymour was the last candidate to register in Prospect and will once again run on the Progressives ticket, despite prior speculation that she would run as an independent.
The Cayman Democratic Party was out in force in West Bay, fielding a candidate in each of the four districts. Party leader McKeeva Bush said he is concerned about the economy. “Yes, there has been an upswing but the trickle-down effect has not taken place. Far too many people have lost their homes, have lost their business, lost their investment.” The opposition leader took aim at the Progressives government, saying it had produced “a lot of paper” and “a lot of talk” but “done little to nothing to assist.”
CDP candidate John Jefferson Jr. said West Bay is representative of the needs in the country, as all districts are faced with the same issues. “Our main priority is making sure that our people, Caymanians, can find employment. We need to keep an eye on crime in this country. And we need to pay serious attention to the public education system. We need some improvements in this area,” Mr. Jefferson said.
The CDP will roll out its detailed policy plans at a party conference next week Saturday. But Mr. Bush said there are many areas that need to be addressed, including the diversification of the economy.
Candidate Mervin Smith said his message has not changed from four years ago, when he first ran as an independent candidate in West Bay. “I still see jobs and opportunities and the ability of our people to get those opportunities as a big issue,” he said.
He attributed the “rise in crime” and Cayman’s social issues “to what’s happened in the country over the last 15 to 20 years, where our representatives have not done a good enough job to ensure that our people get the jobs and opportunities that are available.”
Laura Young, an independent candidate in West Bay South, makes the same point but combines it with the need for social harmony. “We have to make sure that Caymanians are the primary beneficiaries but also work with other people who have chosen Cayman as their home, or work here temporarily.”
Another independent and first-time candidate Katherine Ebanks-Wilks, who is running against the CDP’s Captain Eugene Ebanks in West Bay Central, said she hopes to bring new ideas and a new approach in the district.
Education and Labor Minister Tara Rivers, who is running as an independent candidate in West Bay South, says she needs to continue the work she has started and ensure that education reforms are not subject to political games. “I came in with a very ambitious plan. I was able to accomplish a lot of that plan but there is still work to be done. That is really why I am running, to show the need for consistency, the need for leadership that you can trust in terms of not just making the campaign promises but delivering on these promises.”
The final nomination count in the Bodden Town area has 15 candidates vying for a seat in the four constituencies.
In Bodden Town East, four candidates were nominated – Osbourne Bodden for the Progressives, Robert Bodden for the Cayman Democratic Party, and independents Dwayne Seymour and Arnold Berry.
In Bodden Town West, four candidates were also nominated – CDP’s Stafford Berry, the Progressives’ Maxine Bodden Robinson, and independents Gilbert McLean and Christopher Saunders.
Three candidates were nominated in Savannah – longtime Bodden Town district incumbent Anthony Eden and Kent McTaggart as independents, and Heather Bodden running with the Progressives.
In Newlands, four candidates were nominated. They included Mario Rankin and Raul Gonzalez Jr., both first-time candidates and independents. Incumbent independent Alva Suckoo and incumbent Minster Wayne Panton of the Progressives will also contest the district.
All the Bodden Town candidates greeted each other warmly and kept up lively and spirited conversations with their supporters and posed for pictures.
In East End, it will be a race between three independent candidates, Arden McLean, John McLean Jr. and Isaac Rankine.
The first to register his nomination was incumbent Arden McLean, who described his top priorities as “education, security, health, unemployment and opportunity for Caymanians to rise. In particular for the district of East End, I want to see small businesses in the tourism sector.”
Next to register was Isaac Rankine, who said, “I’ve seen what East End has become. It’s gotten worse over the last several cycles. It has been neglected. There are things people in the district are crying out for. We are having problems with unemployment. We are having problems with education and we are having problems with economic activity in our district. Thus I thought I should throw my hat in the ring.”
He highlighted unemployment and poor public transportation as leading issues, and encouraged greater access to vocational training to boost East End development.
John McLean Jr., after registering his nomination, said, “What is important to me is to have my people’s interests looked after for the first time in many years. I really want to do the best I can with regard to promoting businesses here and ensuring that our people in this district are first and foremost,” he said.
“For too long they have been pushed aside and not noticed,” he added.
In North Side, the morning got off to a bang – or, rather, a clang – when the fire alarm went at off almost exactly 8 a.m. in the Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre where the district nominations were to take place. Elections Office personnel and the police officer on duty evacuated while the appropriate authorities were contacted.
Within 13 minutes, the caretaker arrived and pointed to a loose plate on one of the alarms inside. He quickly screwed the plate back in place and everyone resumed their positions inside. Returning Officer Annikki Brown and Presiding Officer Shushan O’Connor sat at a table in the main hall, with a police constable and Elections Office driver/support staffer Jules Jervis patrolling.
The first candidate to arrive was independent Justin Craig Ebanks, followed by Johany “Jay” Ebanks. Independent incumbent Ezzard Miller arrived at around 11 a.m. to register. He’s served the past two terms in the Legislative Assembly.
Progressives candidate Edward Owen Chisholm approached the civic centre holding a one-cent coin. He said he had found it earlier in the morning and was keeping it. One of Mr. Chisholm’s nominators later shared the family’s saying – If they find a penny, it has been dropped from heaven by Miss Edna – Edna Moyle, former North Side MLA, Speaker of the House, and Edward’s mother. She died in 2013.
Both incumbents in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman will face challengers in the 2017 election.
In Cayman Brac East, Progressives candidate Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, the Speaker of the House, will face former Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Deputy Commissioner Rudolph Dixon. It’s Mr. Dixon’s first foray into politics and he will be up against a six-term incumbent.
“I see a community that is aching for change. I’ve got proven leadership skills and I’ll strive to make that change,” Mr. Dixon said.
Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell will seek re-election to his fourth term in office against challengers Maxine Moore and Nickolas DaCosta.