Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Joan Gordon-Webley's declaration that she is keen to be the first female general secretary of the 69-year-old Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has drawn a gamut of reactions from party members particularly in the wake of the announcement by the party leader Andrew Holness that he wants Horace Chang in the job.
Gordon-Webley's critics claim that she is divisive in nature and question whether the veteran politician will be able to unite the JLP around a common cause as it seeks to transform itself in the aftermath of the crushing loss in the December 2011 general election.
"If I am divisive, somebody needs to tell me in what way," declared Gordon-Webley in a recent interview with The Sunday Gleaner.
But with the JLP appearing to be adopting a new approach under Holness' leadership, questions are also being asked about Gordon-Webley's ability to fit in with the plans to fashion a new-look party.
"I can unite the party, I have united the parties throughout the Caribbean and I intend to do so with the JLP," she asserted.
Gordon-Webley also rejected the claims of her detractors that she has issues with female party stalwarts including Dorothy Lightbourne; Olivia 'Babsy' Grange and Shahini Robinson.
"I didn't know that I had a problem with Dorothy Lightbourne, it's the first time I am hearing this; she is someone I happen to like very much. I don't know if Shahini Robinson has a problem with me, I don't have one with her. I don't know that I have a problem with Babsy, maybe she has one with me I don't know ..."
Gordon-Webley said she was acutely aware that detractors make allegations of this nature to advance their campaign.
Labourites batting for Chang, another political stalwart, to assume the influential position of general secretary, contend that with a young leader at the helm of the party it needs someone without baggage to fill the post.
The detractors claim that Gordon-Webley's defeat in three general elections - in East Rural St Andrew; South East St Andrew and again in East Rural St Andrew has rendered her a political baggage.
Responding to suggestions that she is a political liability, having not been able to win a competitive election since her victory in the October 1980 polls, Gordon-Webley charged that she was robbed on more than one occasion.
She said she was the victim of wanton gerrymandering in one election while political violence cost her another victory.
Gordon-Webley lost to the People's National Party's (PNP) Ginnard Barrett in the 1989 general election but she is adamant that political shenanigans were at play.
"The reason that I lost my seat at that time (1989) was that a huge section of my support was cut off and they imported Harbour View on to East Rural St Andrew, it was never there before. What is Harbour View doing on a seat like East Rural St Andrew?"
Gordon-Webley noted that when she went into East Rural St Andrew in 1980, the communities of Tavern, Hermitage and August Town were part of the constituency - not so in 1989.
"On the eve of the 1989 election, the gerrymandering took place. Tavern was cut off; Hermitage was cut off; August Town was cut off, and the entire Harbour View - east and west - was placed on the seat and that area had always voted PNP except for one time and I only lost by just over 100 votes," she charged.
Gordon-Webley said after her 1989 general election, she worked with the Caribbean Democratic Union (CDU) until 2007 when she was unexpectedly thrust in a seat that was tailor-made for the PNP.
"Just before the 2007 election, I was out of the island working, managing campaigns throughout the Caribbean and came back to Jamaica just before the 2007 election and I was put in a seat, South East St Andrew, that has never been won once by the JLP.
"I was put in the seat late and my predecessor had lost the seat in the region of 1,000. I brought it down to 500," said Gordon-Webley
Even then, Gordon-Webley is of the view that her loss was due to eruption of violence in areas in which she was assured of support on election day.
"If that seat was ran over, I know I would have won the seat," she declared.
According to Gordon-Webley, when she was beckoned to represent the JLP in East Rural St Andrew in 2011, she was not prepared to contest any election.
"My party asked me to run the election five weeks before the election, that's when I went in; that seat was again cut as they removed Jack's Hill which was heavily Labour ... with two weeks of my going into the seat I saw that the seat was nearly impossible to win by someone who had been there for only five weeks ..."
She said nearly 6,000 persons were enumerated but there was no evidence of any organisational work by the party in the constituency.
"My party asked me to run, I did not offer myself ... it should not be held against me ... you can't ask me to win a seat that you did not service," said Gordon-Webley as she suggested that East Rural St Andrew was all but abandoned by the JLP after Joseph Hibbert found himself in trouble.
The feisty politician also scoffed at suggestions that she had trouble dealing with the people she worked with throughout the Caribbean during her tenure as executive director of the CDU.
"I had no problems with anybody in the Caribbean; none to my knowledge as a matter of fact."
Political stalwart Dr Horace Chang is keeping his cards close to his chest even as he confirms that he plans to contest the race for the job as general secretary of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
"That is definitely so, but I do not wish to comment further at this point," Chang told The Sunday Gleaner late last week.
"I will definitely be a candidate but at this time it is inappropriate to conduct a public campaign." Chang argued that his reticence was based on the fact the positions of general secretary and chairman of the JLP will be voted on the first Central Executive meeting following the party's annual conference.
The conference is scheduled to be held on November 18 and the Central Executive on December 2.
According to Chang, traditionally the election of general secretary does not attract the cut and thrust that is characteristic of public campaigns as the elections of leader and four deputy leaders.
"The truth is the party deals with contentious campaign very badly so I don't wish to be involved in (one)," he said.
"It's the Central Executive of the party which comprises less than 200 persons that decide the elections of general secretary and chairman," he argued.
"In addition to that, the office of general secretary becomes vacant after the annual conference, so it's premature to make any comments at this time."
Chang also refused to comment on Joan Gordon-Webley who has declared an interest in the post.
Chang, a former deputy leader of the JLP, said he will have enough time to comment after he is elected.
The former water and housing minister in the Bruce Golding administration is no stranger to internal elections.
It was he who unseated then deputy leader of Area Council Four Edmund Bartlett for the position in 2003 at the same conference that another stalwart, Olivia Grange was defeated by James Robertson in Area Council Two.
However, Chang was in 2010 challenged by Dr Christopher Tufton for control of Area Council Four and was defeated, leaving him outside of the officer rank of the party.