The Damion Crawford engine revving across Jamaica's roads

Outspoken PNP vice presidential hopeful has done the math; confident of success

BY H G HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 12, 2018

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HE is seen as a favourite to win one of four positions on offer in the race for vice-president of the People's National Party (PNP), but Damion Crawford will not allow popularity to be his driver towards the political finish line.

Revealing his pleasure with his own campaign and how the five other candidates have been running theirs, Crawford said that the cordial atmosphere that has characterised the event so far will do well for the party that he has opted to become affiliated with.

The colourful Crawford is going up against incumbent vice-presidents Dr Fenton Ferguson, Dr Wykeham McNeill, Angela Brown Burke; and fellow newcomers Phillip Paulwell and Mikael Phillips in the September 15 vote expected to be held at the National Arena in St Andrew, during the four-day annual conference of the PNP, which is celebrating its 80th year of existence.

“There is a level of excitement as well among the delegates — to be interacting with those who are the faces of the party more often than normal when there is not an election,” Crawford told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.

“As it relates to mine, its pulling together well. I've got great endorsements and pledges of support from persons like K D Knight, John Junor, and more recently Maxine Henry Wilson called to say she is in support, and so I almost have (former PNP President and Prime Minister) P J's (Patterson) Cabinet currently supporting me. To that extent I am pleased that some of the stalwarts of the party, original forerunners of the party, have come behind me to say they are in support of my candidacy, and I have widespread party support, delegates, non-delegates have been campaigning, calling and just wishing the best,” Crawford said.

Refusing to reveal his strategy that he believes will land him one of the positions, Crawford, a mathematics whiz kid, said that he had already done the calculations to know what is the minimum that four persons can get in order to go clear of the other members of the chasing pack. And, he is aiming to pile on the votes to finish at the top of the pile.

“Yes, there is a concept of a first VP that gives the opinion of widespread delegate support, so there is always going to be public perception of that individual who finishes first. But your first target in a semi-final is to get to the final and that is in the top four. Thereafter, you can say to yourself, within the top four, where do I fall? You might not want to be fourth, if you could be third. Therefore, the total aim of the teams is to be in the top four and to ask persons for support in that four.

“Our path is clear to be in the top four,” he said of his team of organisers. “We look at all the regions, we look at the constituencies, we look at the leadership, and we look at the general support and we try to find that route to definitely be in the four.”

The only person in the race who does not have a seat in Jamaica's House of Representatives, Crawford believes that it will not work against him.

“The good thing about the vice-president in a political leadership is to be the interface with the public and I have been one of the greatest persons who interfaces with the public. So, therefore, if the vice-president is a part of the leadership whose responsibility it is to sell the party's platform and to seek support for the party's platform; I have been doing that without a seat.

“So if I have been doing the work, then give me the job. If the leadership is supposed to be those who can assist others by walking with them, campaigning with them and increasing their support, I have been doing that without a seat.

“If it is about showing our history and breaking down what the JLP is doing so people understand and support when to support and not to support, I have been doing that without a seat.

“I am one of the central voices as it relates to the State of Emergency, one of the central voices as it relates to paying the teachers and the police. So the role of leadership in a political party isn't tied to having a seat. It is tied to the activities that you are carrying out and have been carrying out … those activities that are the responsibility of leadership,” Crawford stated.

But what makes the first dreadlocked parliamentarian different from the others seeking to become part of the collective number two to party president Dr Peter Phillips? He believes that it is his mindset, and his mind have caused other people to see him differently from those running the daily grind. “Persons have seen that I am committed to a different type of country, and the country I have committed to I have gained widespread support. I'm not saying the others aren't equally committed; I'm saying that the evidence of my commitment has been taken on more by the public and I've proven the ability to take the most difficult concepts and make them simple, to come with creative ideas that persons think might be able to work, and therefore that in the upper echelons would be important.

“But also, I'm the person who younger people feel is more likely to offer them political protection; and that is at a table you are likely to lobby for policy and action that will benefit them, generally in politics, not just in the PNP. I think that that is one of the advantages that (Prime Minister Andrew) Holness has got, that his image allows for young people to believe that he is most likely to protect them. Unfortunately, I don't have that power, but they believe that I am more likely than him to protect them, so if I should gain that power, being at the table, the final room of decision-making for the PNP, it will make us more competitive for their support and their vote,” a confident Crawford sounded.

Cautiously stating that his target area, as far as it related to voting delegates, was not just the youth votes, Crawford said that older delegates, too, realise the need for putting young people forward to hold key positions within the party and play roles of energising the organisation. The ability of former presidents Portia Simpson Miller and Michael Manley to energise the base, the former president of the PNP's youth arm, the PNP Youth Organisation, said reenergised the party and inspired many to work harder even when it appeared that their energy levels were low.

And of his seeming inexperience to function as a VP, Crawford buried the thought that he was not so equipped.

“I'm not the only person at the table. Peter's (Phillips) experience contributes to me as a person and part of the team. He will be able to guide my energy, I will be able to add that energy, so there are different things in a team that people need,” he said of the PNP's president and Leader of the Opposition.

“I am building a house now and I am at the point where I am buying furniture, but nobody is celebrating the foundation. Every Saturday for the last three months we meet with Peter Phillips, putting together that manifesto, that concept. Just two weeks ago I presented about youth and what we want for youth. So he has been engineering that as a foundation, but nobody celebrates that, nobody sees that. People only see when they say Petrojam or those skirting things; nobody sees the foundation work. I have never seen a leader in the People's National Party being so early in putting forward concepts that he will want for a manifesto. Manifestos normally come up when elections are called.

“The level of thought and the level of interest that he has, especially when speaking of things like land, of education… and he has asked all of us to present. When he comes out people will be impressed with the things that he espouses,” Crawford suggested of the man whom he believes he can depend on to build his bank of experience.

Regarding the view that the PNP needs to purge some of its elected servants who have been around for several years and do not have any legacies to show, Crawford maintained that shoving party faithful aside would not be the best move, as there was always a place for them, even if others seem them as choking the party's advance.

“I was a great supporter of the Reggae Boyz when they went to France and we all praised Walter Boyd. Very few people praised Tatty Brown,” Crawford said of then star striker Boyd and top — notch defender Brown — both members of Jamaica's historic World Cup football squad in 1998. “Sometimes the people with the glitz are not the only people. There are some other people who are trench people. There are some other people who are not as recognised.

“Politics is about numbers, so there is no number that you would want to give up; there is nobody that you would want to get out because politics is about getting more people, not losing people, so therefore there is going to be more people who need to transition into different spaces, into different activities and allow others to evolve into those activities. As well as Merlene Ottey did, we wouldn't pick her for a 4x100 metres now, but we will always be reverend to her for what she did in the previous 4x100 metres, as Merlene Ottey. We need some changes, but not to change out.

“Usain Bolt, as fast as he is, needed a coach. And that coach can't run very fast but he has the ability to coach. So, therefore, all the energy that I have need to be chanelled in the proper way. People made mistakes that I am trying to make now. They can give me an indicator that we have done that before; if you think about it this way, maybe you won't make that mistake. So if I am incapable of standing on people's shoulders then we will always be at the same height. So I am saying those persons now who were on shoulders need to become the shoulders, but they still have a role to play. I am not saying that they have no further role to play. People assume incorrectly that experience comes with age, experience comes with opportunities and therefore I have been given some opportunities to gain experience, but if I am not given any new opportunities, no matter how old I am I will not have the experience. So, therefore, a person at 90 who has never been an accountant, is not an experienced accountant even though he is 90, and so what we need is for the PNP to give more persons opportunities so that they can claim that they are experienced,” the free-speaking Crawford ended.

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