PNP newcomer seeks to unseat confident Kari Douglas in Trafalgar division
WITH THE monumental support of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) behind her, former People’s National Party (PNP) councillor Kari Douglas is expecting to come out on top in what should be a fierce contest against Jesse James Clarke for the Trafalgar division.
Clarke, who was appointed by the Opposition party as Douglas’ replacement when she crossed the floor over a year ago, has been cautiously optimistic that his competitor’s time in the division is coming to an end.
The PNP caretaker, a political newcomer, has been studying his opponent’s poll numbers and reckons that her base support across two terms has been eroded.
“If you have been following the trend from she first won around 10 years ago, her margin has dropped significantly in the last election to 72,” Clarke told The Gleaner ahead of the PNP’s St Andrew South Eastern constituency conference at Curphey Place on Sunday.
He continued: “So, even if she was still with the PNP, it would have been a difficult task for her to win just the same. But we’re not taking anything for granted. We’re just doing the work because that is what persons should use to decide.”
Douglas’ margin of victory fell from 29 per cent in the 2012 local government elections when she polled 1,581 votes over the JLP’s Courtney Clarke, 1,118, to five per cent in 2016. She pulled 1,381 of the votes then to Fabian Brown’s 1,306.
But Douglas has contended that the appearance of waning support for her is due to the PNP’s weak political tide, especially since 2016.
Furthermore, she said unlike before when the majority of resources allocated to her were distributed in a partisan manner to PNP supporters, political spoils are now spread across the aisle.
“Not even with the member of parliament having maybe five, six, seven times the amount of resources I have am I concerned that I am in any trouble,” a confident Douglas told The Gleaner on Thursday.
“I’m still very strong on the ground. I’m clearly stronger than before because I’ve been empowered through Government, through various agencies and there are multiple agencies and also because I have a wider set of persons to serve,” she added.
Douglas defended her stewardship, telling The Gleaner that she has served “very well” over the years even with the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.
She said that she has hosted several fairs, including back-to-school treats, reduced unemployment in the division “significantly” by assisting scores of youth in securing jobs in construction, managed the environs and kept the considered “elite” division clean, as well as covered funeral expenses for several families and provided building assistance.
“We have several poverty-stricken areas that would need that support from us and we have been able to provide it,” she said.
Douglas also noted that the JLP has further increased the capacity of all councillors to better serve their divisions with the allocation of greater resources.
“So, I don’t know what they (PNP) are talking about. I think they would really like that to be the truth. They’re very disingenuous in how they have been campaigning against me. They’ve fabricated some things but I understand the politics.
“So my thing is really to ignore them and press on with the business of the division, because there is so much work to be done,” she said.
But Clarke, a 31-year-old scientist, is seeking to “set the record straight” in returning the division to the folds of the Opposition party.
He said since his instalment in the division, he has done “way more work” than Douglas.
Clarke said he has spent his time as a caretaker constructing and renovating bathrooms for residents living in tenement yards, overseeing the cleaning of gullies across the division, facilitating garbage collection through private companies, and hosting health fairs.
“It’s a financial burden. I don’t get government funding to do those things but I have to be doing all the work that the regular councillor would do because she has not been doing it,” he said.
The PNP caretaker is also banking on the “low morale” among Jamaicans under the Holness administration to regain the division.
Clarke argued that crime has worsened, poverty has increased with more than two million Jamaicans unable to afford food.
“A lot of persons are working poor. They might have a job but cannot afford basic things. Frustration is ripe on the ground. Persons are disappointed by the promises that have not been fulfilled by the Jamaica Labour Party and I think they are willing to bring back the PNP at this point in time,” he said.
Within the division, he said concerns about crime have heightened with a reported increase in petty theft.
An increase in “night noise” has also been a trigger for residents in the New Kingston and Golden Triangle areas with the reopening of the entertainment sector which had shuttered because of COVID-19.
“Recently we did a clean-up along Hopefield and we found a lot of stolen items right behind Vale Royal. So, it just shows that we have a crime problem in the division. It needs way more attention before it gets to a point like other hotspots. So the crime and security of residents are priorities for me right now and garbage collection,” he said.
Still, concerns remain within the corridors at 89 Old Hope Road that Douglas could command some support from disgruntled Comrades.
That, along with the backing of diehard Labourites and significant resources from the JLP, may give the two-term councillor the fillip needed to retain the division.