If the Virgin Islands awarded medals for political courage, three senators should be on the podium receiving one right now.
Senator Kurt Vialet and Senator Janelle Sarauw charged headfirst last week into what has become a political battle in which they have challenged Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and his administration for fast-tracking lucrative contracts to his family and friends.
Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. picked up the battle flag by calling for a Committee of the Whole investigation into the governor’s use of State of Emergency powers. The probe will scrutinize all contracts awarded under the cover of “exigent circumstances,” which allows the administration to take shortcuts and bypass normal procedures in awarding contracts.
The intensity of the governor’s reaction has been akin to unholstering a flame-thrower. The weapon the governor chose is one that normally is a sure-fire V.I. way of demolishing a political opponent. Knowing that concern for V.I. youth is a sacred tenet in V.I. politics, he charged that the two senators are out to “eat their young.”
But his mean-spirited claim that senators Sarauw and Vialet do not care about youth opportunities has misfired. Senator Sarauw is young, and she is an outspoken advocate for V.I. youth. Senator Vialet gained early political traction as a widely respected and popular principal of St. Croix Educational Complex.
Only the governor’s close cohort would believe either of those senators was trying to damage V.I. youth.
The cohort includes Michael Kadeem Pemberton, co-founder along with the governor’s daughter Aliyah Bryan, of Avera Tech, which is poised to get a highly lucrative contract via a process that can only be described as a rush job. Avera’s contract got the nod before the company even had a V.I. business license.
What Avera did have was connections. Aliyah Bryan, a 2019 graduate of an elite stateside college, is the governor’s older daughter. Pemberton, a former intern for the Bryan-Roach campaign, specializes in marketing. Government House spokesperson Richard Motta has specifically identified Pemberton as one of the governor’s friends.
Rushing to defend the governor and the contract, Pemberton has used the governor’s tactic of smearing the senators as enemies of youth. He complained that they had attacked a company “that was formed by a group of millennial Virgin Islanders seeking to make a difference in their community.”
He’s wrong and Governor Bryan is wrong.
The senators are not attacking youth.
• They are attacking favoritism and patronage.
• They are attacking abuse of power.
• They are attacking manipulation of the process and procedures that are supposed to ensure fair and honest use of public funds.
• They are attacking unequal opportunity for the V.I. business community.
Calling out a governor is politically dangerous, as a number of senators have learned in the past when a governor vetoed a pet project or withdrew political party support. Therefore, the public should not discount how much courage senators Vialet, Sarauw and Francis are showing.
The rest of the senators will have a chance to show their true colors when the Committee of the Whole convenes. What will they be?