Wykeham walks to the wicket - PNP heavyweight to announce run for VP post today
An interesting contest is shaping up for the four vice-president spots in the People's National Party (PNP) with the first member of the second-tier leadership of the still hurting party, Dr Wykeham McNeill, to throw his hat into the ring today.
The five-time member of parliament is slated to announce his bid for one of the vice-president slots at a meeting of the party's Region Six Executive Council at the Success Primary School in St James this afternoon.
His announcement will come days after another member of the second-tier leadership, Lisa Hanna, indicated that she is considering a run for one of the four slots and follows indications from Peter Bunting that he will be going for the party's top job come September.
"I am definitely thinking about it," Hanna told The Gleaner recently while pointing out that there are some things around the decision that needed to be finalised.
For his part, Bunting has hinted that his challenge to become party president could also come this year.
While Derrick Kellier is not expected to be on the ballot for the vice-president contest when the PNP holds its annual conference in September, party insiders say the other three VPs, Angela Brown Burke, Dr Fenton Ferguson, and Noel Arscott - are all prepared to offer themselves for another term.
It is also expected that other Comrades will enter the vice-president race before the July deadline for nominations to be submitted.
"Wykeham has always conducted himself in a decent manner in politics, and he will continue to act that way, so there will be no snipping or underhand moves. He will announce his candidacy so that everyone knows his intention and not be like others who want to contest but are testing the waters," said a PNP insider close to McNeill.
"He has put together a strong team, which will be led by D.K. Duncan as his campaign director and Richard Azan as his campaign manager. He will also have the support of sitting vice-president Derrick Kellier, who I expect to make it public today that he will not be seeking re-election," added the insider.
McNeill has long been a powerhouse in the PNP, coming from a family of Comrades led by his father, former Minister of Health Dr Kenneth McNeill, and his mother, Valerie, who served as a councillor.
He was the chairman of Region Six going into the 2007 general election, which the PNP lost, but despite that defeat, he emerged with his stocks rising as that was the only region where the party won more seats than it did in the previous election (2002), where it had been victorious.
With the party hurting after the 2007 loss, McNeill sided with Dr Peter Phillips in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Portia Simpson Miller in 2008 and offered himself as a vice-president on the Phillips ticket.
That failed bid seemed to put a damper on his rise in the party as he resigned as the Region Six chairman, but he retained the Western Westmoreland seat and was back as tourism minister after the PNP's victory in the 2011 general election.
"He resigned because he did not support Portia in that race, and other regional leaders who backed Phillips also resigned, but now, he goes into this race with two of Portia's key supporters leading his campaign team, so you know he will have the united support of those who backed either Peter or Portia in 2008," declared the source, who is expected to be named as part of McNeill's campaign team.
Comrades interested in running for any of the party's top offices must be nominated before the party's National Executive Council meets at the end of July or in the first week of August.