Wed | Sep 23, 2020

Another Jamaican climbs political ladder in US

Published:Wednesday | July 29, 2020 | 12:00 AMLester Hinds/Gleaner Writer

Yet another Jamaican has tasted success in politics in the United States.

Phelecia Nembhard, originally from Whitfield Town in Kingston, was in June elected mayor of the city of New Carrolton in Maryland. She is the first female and first person of colour to be elevated to that position.

After leaving high school, Nembhard entered The University of the West Indies (UWI) on a scholarship and earned a degree in management and accounting. In 1996, she was recognised as Student of the Year at UWI.

Her career in Jamaica involved working at the National Commercial Bank and Eagle Merchant Bank.

Nembhard migrated to the United States in 1996, shortly after leaving UWI. She soon landed a job with Citizen Bank, which later became Sun Trust Bank. She left Sun Trust for Presidential Bank, where she worked as a regional manager.

Nembhard said she never saw herself as a politician, but rather as a community activist.

“I did a lot of volunteer work helping people in the community. I volunteered with the school system and I went to meetings where I agitated on behalf of parents and students,” she said.

Nembhard said she was encouraged to run for mayor by the parents at the school where she volunteered and by supporters.

“I was told by several parents that they would support me if I was to run for mayor,” said Nembhard.

Since taking the reins at city hall, Nembhard has hit the ground running, instituting a number of reforms as well as working with the city’s police department to effect reforms.

“My goal is to have a progressive agenda for the city,” she said.

Nembhard said she is looking for ways to become a problem-solver for the city, noting that her priority will be to improve the city’s infrastructure, make the city solvent and improve the quality of life for all residents.

She intends to have a boys and girls’ club where children can experience many activities that will benefit their development. The building, she said, will also provide space for senior citizens.

Speaking specifically about police reform, the new mayor said that she has been working with the police chief to put into place certain reforms.

“I don’t believe in defunding the police. There are certain things we can do that will make policing better,” she said.

Mayor Nembhard said that the police department will institute a community resource officer programme where officers out of uniform integrate with the community. She said that some resources will be reallocated from the police department so that people trained in mental health can work with the police to help with social interventions.

“The police department is working with me to put these changes into effect,” she said.

Nembhard is also looking to change out the city’s transportation fleet with new and updated vehicles.

“This will cut down on maintenance costs,” she pointed out.

The youngest person to serve as New Carrolton’s mayor, a city with about 60 per cent blacks, the new mayor said she is looking forward to serving the community at a higher level.

“I believe in my capacity ... I can make a difference,” she said.