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Battle lines drawn! - Crawford, Vaz enter noisy political arena for hot run-off

Published:Saturday | March 16, 2019 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Ann-Marie Vaz and husband Daryl are animated after she was nominated at the Portland Parish Court on Friday. The East Portland by-election will be held on April 4.
Damion Crawford (centre) greets supporters shortly after he addressed them on the platform at Folly Oval on nomination day on Friday.

It’s official! Damion Crawford and Ann-Marie Vaz have been called to their set positions for an April 4 by-election showdown in the race that will decide who will become the member of parliament for Eastern Portland.

The two candidates were yesterday nominated for the contest amid intense political rivalry between their supporters, bringing fully to light battle lines that were being marked following the killing of Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, the then member of parliament for the seat.

Both the Jamaica Labour Party and People’s National Party pulled out all the stops to show political strength, flooding the streets of Port Antonio, Portland, with supporters clad in party colours.

Crawford, the PNP’s candidate, was the first to be nominated at the Port Antonio courthouse, heralded by great fanfare and to fist-pumping supporters who had braved the blinding glare of the early morning sunshine coming from the eastern skies.

He was supported by his party president, Dr Peter Phillips, PNP Vice-President Phillip Paulwell, and Andrea Moore, a woman who had been overlooked twice to run on the party’s ticket.

The dreadlocked politician was eventually confirmed as candidate approximately 10:12 a.m.

Addressing the sea of Comrades who had gathered just outside the court, Crawford said that he was confident of defeating his opponent and ensuring that the seat remained in the winning column for the PNP.

“I am the best candidate for Eastern Portland,” he said, while holding tightly to his ‘rod of correction’.

Shortly after, Vaz and her team swept the streets of Port Antonio, washing over the orange that had earlier occupied the space.

But on several occasions, the Gleaner news team witnessed several confrontations between the two camps which threatened to get physical.

In one of those incidents, the blouse of a PNP supporter was badly torn as she was being held back by her fellow Comrades trying to prevent her from advancing towards JLP supporters who had apparently labelled Crawford a meat-eating Rasta.

That aside, Vaz made her way up the stairs of the courthouse, accompanied by JLP leader Andrew Holness and her campaign manager, Juliet Holness, to be nominated on the party’s ticket.

That process was completed at 11:46 a.m., and minutes later, she would emerge from the precincts of the courthouse to address supporters.

“This is an extraordinary day for me and the people of East Portland. I am thrilled to be standing here in service of the people of Eastern Portland. I want to thank them for the love and support they have shown me. Today, we celebrate this day.

“Women, never let anyone put barriers on what you can achieve,” Vaz said, with her husband, Daryl, standing by her side.

Taking nothing for granted

In the meantime, campaign director for Crawford’s campaign, Maxine Henry-Wilson, told The Gleaner that she was taking nothing for granted, as there was much work for the PNP to do in the seat which, by her own admission, had an organisational collapse after the 2016 general election.

“I think the organisation, we are pulling it together. We’re aware that it is votes that win, and hype does not win, and we are also aware that ‘120,000 strong’ can’t be wrong was wrong in the past.

“I believe that based on the knowledge of the constituency, it has a foundation PNP support. I believe that events have led to a mobilisation of support. I am not sure yet whether all of that support has been converted to votes,” Henry-Wilson, also a former general secretary of the PNP, said.

She said it would not be a walkover for Crawford, especially because of the internal issues which, she said, affected the constituency.

“We came into the last election 2016 very divided. It was challenging being able to put it back together again, and then we went back into division, and one thing we know is when you have political division, it takes a toll on the organisation,” she added.

Holness said he was pleased with the results of the campaign efforts so far, pseudo-correcting an earlier quip from Daryl Vaz that ‘the argument was done’.

“No, no. The argument just a start,” Holness said.

“I am particularly excited by the energy that I feel, and I have been doing campaign now for over 20 years, so I believe I have a good eye for details of the organisation, for the spirit and enthusiasm of the people, and a good sense as to where the electorate will go,” the JLP leader contended.