Sat | Apr 4, 2020

Charles emotional over imminent swearing-in - House Speaker looking forward to historic father-son political moment

Published:Sunday | February 16, 2020 | 12:35 AMErica Virtue - Senior Sunday Gleaner Writer
Gloria (left) and Pearnel Charles Sr (second left) greet son, Pearnel Charles Jr (right), and Prime Minister Andrew Holness (second right), along with former South East Clarendon Member of Parliament Rudyard Spencer at the Vere Technical High School last Wednesday. Charles Jr was nominated as the Jamaica Labour Party candidate for the constituency.

Big men are not supposed to cry but Pearnel Charles Sr came close last Wednesday, hours after his son and namesake was nominated as the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) candidate for Clarendon South East ahead of the March 2 by-election.

Barring a yet-to-be identified political storm, attorney-at-law Pearnel Charles Jr will defend the 971-vote majority former Member of Parliament Rudyard Spencer secured in the 2016 general election, and be sworn into the House of representatives by his father.

A JLP stalwart, former trade unionist, government minister, author, and current Speaker in the House of Representatives, the elder Charles’ voice broke during a telephone interview after nominations last week. The 84-year-old said he was just proud to be “daddy” to the younger Charles, who resigned as a senator and minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation to be nominated.

“Even without me swearing him in, it was already historic. We know that there are wives and husband, brothers, father and son, but I think our situation was already unique,” said the elder politician.

Charles Sr could not recall a father and son serving for the JLP at the same time.

“It’s the first time, I think, that the Speaker of the House will have the opportunity to swear in his son, but it is also the first time that a sitting Speaker and his son were both serving in the Legislature, one in the Upper House and the other in the Lower House, respectively,” he explained.

Currently, Dr Peter Phillips and his son, Mikael, are the father and son duo serving in the Lower House. Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his wife Juliet are husband and wife serving; as are Daryl Vaz and his wife, Ann-Marie, and they were all preceded by Dr Paul Robertson and his wife, Karlene Kirlew Robertson, who served through the People’s National Party (PNP). Brothers Dean and Michael Peart also served simultaneously for the PNP, as did former Prime Minister Michael Manley and his brother, Douglas Manley.

For Charles Sr, it will be a special “memory moment” for father and son.

“I am a rock stone Labourite but, right now, I am just a proud father,” Charles said when asked if he was crying.

He expressed pride that one of his daughters, Dr Michelle Charles, will be the JLP’s candidate in St Thomas Eastern, going up against incumbent Dr Fenton Ferguson. Michelle Charles, like Ferguson, is a dental surgeon. It is also the same constituency where another daughter, Patrece Charles, a clinical psychologist, contested in 2011 and 2016 but lost to the seven-term Ferguson.

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

The younger Charles’ pragmatism was clear.

“It has to happen first … but I am truly blessed, grateful to be a part of this moment that is coming,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

“My father and I share a special relationship. He inspired me. He is a mentor, role model, a friend. We share the same name, and we have a passion for service and love for what we do. It is because of that inspiration and passion why I have decided to step in the arena,” he said Thursday.

“Of course, it will be an emotional moment,” he added when he, too, was asked if he might shed a tear.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced last week that the by-election would be held to replace Spencer, who is expected to be appointed ambassador to Germany.

Spencer in 2016 received the support of 10,045 of the 19,119 electors who went to the polls. Patricia Duncan Sutherland, of the PNP, received 9,074. At that time, 39,210 individuals were registered to vote, but polling in the constituency (48.76) per cent was almost identical to the national voting average.

Director of Elections Glasspole Brown said 41,308 individuals are eligible to vote on March 2.

Charles Jr was nominated at Vere Technical High School, a few hours after former PNP candidate-turned-independent Derrick Lambert was nominated.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com