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Mar 29, 2001

Race in Pickstock goes down to wire

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If you were anywhere around the Pickstock division on Belize City’s near northside this week you would have reason to believe that a national election was imminent. Banners line the streets, colourful posters cover every inch of public space and roving bands of campaign workers rampage through the constituency’s streets and alleys like army ants marching through the jungle. But general elections are several years off; all the feverish activity in Pickstock is instead focussed on a PUP nominating convention that matches two high-profile candidates, each of whom is going all out to win the party’s blessing.

Godfrey Smith, Political Aspirant

“All that remains is to get the machinery cranking on the day. Of course, having said that let me be very clear that on this campaign team we keep working up until the last ballot is counted. So even though we’re very prepared, it doesn’t mean we’ve stopped campaigning. We’re campaigning right up to the very last minute.”

Bobby Usher, Political Aspirant

“It’s the horse who wins that last lap wins the race and we’re in the last lap.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“And how is this horse?”

Bobby Usher

“This horse is going. We’ve been working, we’re organised and I’m depending on the people’s support. We will see what the results are March thirty-first, some time after 7:00 p.m.

Both Bobby Usher and Godfrey Smith are on the home stretch for their March thirty-first convention. Each trying to outdo the other to win the hearts–and more importantly the votes–of people of Pickstock.

Today they pulled out all the stops. Smith brought out his brother Dr. Francis Smith, while Usher campaigned with his uncle Right Honourable George Price, Senior Minister and current representative of the division.

Smith says his convention day machinery is well oiled using the experience of having run a successful campaign for the PUP national ticket in 1998.

Godfrey Smith

“The strategy is no secret. You have to have your constituency zoned off. You have to have your zone commanders in place, with street captains below them who know the people who live, eat, breathe everything on the streets. Know the time that you’re going to have to pick up people, have the vehicles in place. Basically, it requires a great deal of familiarity with the voters on your street. We have that in place and we’re prepared to run on Saturday.”

Usher feels he’s also prepared to run; the question is–which of the men can run faster?

Bobby Usher

“We cannot stop and we need to touch based with our voters, with our supporters, to bring them out. As you see, today is a hot day and you go to people’s home and they may not want to come out at first, but I think eventually we will get a reasonable turnout and hopefully that turnout will put the tide in my favour.”

Godfrey Smith

“I’m very optimistic about a win, but leaving nothing to chance and taking nobody and nothing for granted.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“Do you feel like the underdog in this convention, given that the area is basically a Price area?”

Godfrey Smith

“Yes, I feel like the underdog for the reason that the constituency has been in the Usher/Price family for a long time. And secondly, for the reason that there has been attempts at manipulation in favour of the other side against me. That’s clear for everybody to see, so I can’t hide that and I won’t try. But there is nothing wrong with being the underdog, and in fact the kind of energy that I feel, the kind of encouragement and enthusiasm pumping from the homes of the people in this division leaves us feeling very optimistic and excited.”

Excitement is certainly building up for Saturday. Close to fourteen hundred party cards has been processed and divisional voters will be receiving them up to the day of the event. However, Smith says much to his displeasure, Usher is the divisional chairman distributing the cards single handedly.

Godfrey Smith

“Against the instructions, he went out giving the cards, thinking that by giving the cards to the people they would think in their minds that because he gave them, they’re obligated to vote for him. We, however, anticipated that and before and after he did that, we have successfully campaigned in each and every house saying that no matter who gave the cards, you’re free to vote for who you want to vote. Just because Bobby gave you the cards, doesn’t mean you have to vote for him. The people know that and they’re gonna do what they need to do on convention day.”

Bobby Usher

“We have over one thousand, three hundred and sixty people who are on the list who will be eligible to vote. And certainly if you took into account, what happen in 1998, where seven hundred and thirteen people voted for Mr. Price, obviously there are people in there who voted for Mr. Elrington. But these are people who indicated, they’re interested in becoming members of the People’s United Party, and I’ve signed their application forms, so those application forms were reviewed. There is some talk that we are not fair, how much more fair can one be, when eighty percent of the electorate of the Pickstock Division will be eligible to vote at this convention.”

Both men, each in their own way, are pledging to make Pickstock better. They also claim that a clean campaign is at the heart of their convention.

Godfrey Smith

“I will not pay anybody to vote for me. If you come with a genuine need, because everyday I go through the streets and people come with medical bills, things like that, educational bills. I don’t mind if I can to help people like that, but I refuse to pay anybody to vote for me.”

Bobby Usher

“You cannot buy votes. That’s outright scandalous, and as I’ve said, what I’m about is the old age adage, which is “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” That is what I am about and that is what my whole campaign is about.”

But in the end, the whole campaign is really about winning.

Bernadette Clare, Smith Campaigner

“We go to every house and if the voter is not there, we go back later. Usually people are at work and stuff like that. We work late at night, like nine o’clock, Sundays and reception is great. Nobody has turned us away, people welcome us, they give us juice, journey cakes, if we go at tea time, lunch time.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“And they’re some people who you meet that they’re nice, but you know they won’t vote for you.”

Bernadette Clare

Yes, but we know more or less some of the people that will vote for Bobby, but that’s part of the game. But the majority of the people… We are very, very confident that we’ll have a victory.”

Kenecia Velasquez, who campaigns for Usher is also smelling victory.

Kenecia Velasquez, Usher Campaigner

“The campaign is looking very good for Mr. Usher and I know a lot of people will support him on that day. We’re trying to keep a positive mind. I think if everyone we go to and what they tell us on that day we’ll see victory.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“But you know it doesn’t always work that way.”

Kenecia Velasquez

“We know that. I think we’re all prepared for what’s going to happen.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“What happens if you don’t win?”

Godfrey Smith

“If I don’t win, then I have to go back to being Attorney General. Well, I am Attorney General and finishing that, as I said last time, to the best of my ability. We’ve worked hard, my approach to this campaign has been to do everything I possible can so that whatever the result, I know that I gave it my best shot. If the will of the people is that I should not be the standard bearer, then I have to respect that… And we go back to the drawing board, yes.”

Bobby Usher

“I don’t think that I would ever seek electoral politics again because it’s not something that I have…I could have done this many times in the past when I was younger, but I avoided it because it was not the right time. It would have led to quarrels, contentions with other people. So I’m a team player, I let the best person be the candidate at that time.”

Ann-Marie Williams

Never before in recent memory has the Pickstock Division taken on such a high profile role like in this convention. The placards, posters and banners bearing the charismatic smiles of Godfrey Smith and Bobby Usher are no determinant as to who will win the convention. One thing’s for sure though, conventions are won and lost on the day, so we will just have to wait and see. Reporting from the heart of the Pickstock Division, Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

The convention will be held from 1:00 to 7:00 p.m. this Saturday at the Oddfellows Hall on Lovely Lane.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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