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By-election: jobs and health top concerns

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Political battleground: the Devonshire North Central constituency(Graphic by Jalesa Darrell)

Jobs and healthcare appear to be the top concerns of Devonshire North Central’s voters, as the electoral campaign nears the final stretch.

With residents set to choose between Diallo Rabain and Andrew Simons at a by-election on Thursday, February 4, The Royal Gazette hit the streets of Constituency 13 to canvass opinion.

Some constituents told us that, as Bermuda continues to battle its way out of an economic crisis, the most likely winner will be the candidate who can best deliver on employment hopes.

One 19-year-old Vesey Street resident, who will be voting for the first time, told this newspaper: “I just need a job.

“My preference would be in hospitality or mechanics, but right now I’m just looking for anything. I really need a job.”

He said the harsh reality of being out of work for the past 18 months was by far the most pressing issue on his mind, and he would probably stick with his family’s allegiance to the Progressive Labour Party.

One senior commented on the relative freshness of the candidates, welcoming “the new blood in this by-election”.

Youngest is the One Bermuda Alliance candidate Mr Simons, deputy chairman of the Bermuda Health Council, who turns 34 in March.

It is his second bid for parliament after he narrowly lost Pembroke Central to the PLP’s Walton Brown in the 2012 General Election

PLP contender Mr Rabain, 44, has enjoyed greater visibility, having recently stepped down as Opposition Leader in the Senate.

It is also Mr Rabain’s second try for the House of Assembly: he stood in 2012 as the PLP candidate for Hamilton South, which was taken by Sylvan Richards of the OBA.

Historically a keeper for the PLP, Constituency 13 was never viewed as a safe seat by its former Opposition MP, Glenn Blakeney, who retired on December 7.

About 140 extra voters are listed there now, up from the 1,160 on the electoral roll in 2012, when Mr Blakeney won by 19 votes.

The selection, widely seen as a litmus test for the OBA midway through its administration, lies mainly with voters clustered in a handful of close-knit neighbourhoods.

One such estate surrounds Alexandra Road in Prospect, where a 59-year-old construction worker, giving his name as Forrest, said he had voted for the OBA in 2012 but would support Mr Rabain next month.

Saying he felt “fooled” by the OBA’s promise to create jobs, the ten-year resident of the area said he was praying that work on hotels at Morgan’s Point and St George’s would materialise.

“Rabain helped me find a job,” he added. “I’ve been out of work over a year. I got to make sure I put food on the table.”

Asked if he planned to vote, Forrest said: “You better believe it. I will be taking older people to vote too.”

The only issue he had raised with Mr Rabain was the need for more speed bumps along a road where children play outdoors.

A few doors down, a wheelchair-bound woman in her 40s said her decision would rest on a thorough assessment of both candidates, neither of whom she had seen yet.

“I’ll be voting. It’s your chance to say what’s on your mind. I like the PLP; I think they’ve done a lot to help Bermudians, but I’m not saying the OBA hasn’t either.”

Education, job security and health were her priorities, and she said leaders had to be committed to insuring that Bermudians got jobs: “Your birthright should guarantee you something — not just financial assistance.”

She added: “Winning is determined by who shows their face the most. The only time you see these guys is during an election. It would be nice if the one who didn’t win still showed his face, so that when the General Election comes next year they are in good standing.”

A neighbour who had met both candidates said the economy was his top concern, along with “the lack of communication between the Housing Corporation and the Government — nothing gets done”.

The 58-year-old supermarket worker said he voted by candidate, not by party, and would base his decision on who took the time to come back for a more thorough visit.

A woman across the road declared herself “disgusted with the whole thing”, adding: “I usually vote but this time I don’t think I will. I’m fed up with it all. Nothing gets done.”

A retired resident of some 25 years said the area was “very much” a PLP stronghold. With healthcare his top priority, he was waiting to discuss the issue in detail with both candidates.

Lookout Lane, another close-knit community, lies at the northwest corner of Constituency 13 near the old Winton property, where a 21-year-old new voter said she would be excited to take part for the first time.

Her family has “always supported the PLP”, but she was waiting to meet the candidates. Although she has a job, she said she wanted something more and was finding it difficult.

On national issues she called herself “still relatively new to this”, but said the lack of sidewalks made the area dangerous for walking.

A Jehovah’s Witness up the road said her faith precluded her from voting but said she was concerned at the rundown roads, and was finding it hard after being made redundant 2½ years ago.

Nearby, a senior citizen who “normally” voted by party declined to share his choice, but said both candidates had made promises. His vote would be determined by healthcare.

Another senior said he planned to vote for the OBA, liking Mr Simons for his “calming, assuring” approach: “He has a lot to offer; he’s young, he has good ideas.”

On Cedar Vale, a young mother with a job in international business called the choice “hard” but said she tended to vote PLP, and felt sceptical of the OBA’s push for the America’s Cup and the airport redevelopment while many Bermudians lacked jobs.

“Andrew’s a good person, but in this case I am voting working class,” she added.

On Tribe Road No 1, a senior voter said she’d had visits from representatives of both. Historically she was “probably OBA, but I have not always voted that way”. FutureCare would settle her vote when she got to know the candidates better.

In the southeastern corner of the constituency, on Upland Street, the PLP was solidly endorsed by another senior who said: “I’ve worked in the Government for 30-plus years. I have no faith in this Government and I didn’t have any with the United Bermuda Party. It’s the same now, just a different name.” Calling the OBA “promise breakers”, she said: “I’m voting for Rabain, of course.”

Nearby on Chaingate Hill, another senior and her daughter said both candidates had visited.

The OBA-leaning family declared themselves impressed by Mr Simons’s preference for listening instead of talking.

Dock Hill
Chaingate Hill
Loyal Hill
Alexandra Road