OWEN Speid has admitted that the last two weeks spent in communities of Portland Eastern have left him wide-eyed in pleasant surprise at the support that he has got from the people of the area.
The former Jamaica Teachers’ Association president — who up to recently was working in North Carolina, USA, on contract — returned to his homeland at the end of July to step up his ambition of becoming the People’s National Party’s candidate for Portland Eastern in the next general election.
“It has been good. There is a Speid buzz within the constituency at this time. When I started out the people were excited to see me, and they are even more excited to know that they now feel that they have a viable option rather than being pushed in a corner where they would have to go along with the previously lone aspirant,” the veteran educator said.
That lone aspirant Speid referred to is Colin Bell, the declared candidate to contest the local government election for the PNP in the Fellowship Division of the Portland Municipal Corporation who has since decided to make a push to become the PNP’s candidate for Portland Eastern in the next general election.
Speid said things went “particularly well” over the last two weeks, in a meet-and-greet push that deliberately omitted anything elaborate. “I didn’t want any kind of excitement of such because it was about meeting and greeting the people in their homes, at their places of business, rather than having a large gathering.
“It was successful. I visited quite a number of communities in the rural parts outside of Port Antonio area but I also spent some time with the people in and around the Port Antonio Market, and those people who were relocated from the market when they were burnt out. We had some very good conversations,” the former school principal said.
Of immediate concern, Speid said, is the infrastructure in the constituency which, according to him, is in a bad state.
“I did a couple of videos on the roadway at Norwich Heights, going around Anchovy, that is popularly called Ghost Town. Those two places in particular need immediate attention.
“Motorists have to be repairing the front end of their cars fortnightly, and that cannot be good. I know Mr [Everald] Warmington [minister with responsibility for works] went there at Norwich Heights. I don’t think he went to Ghost Town but it’s cutting across four months since Mr Warmington visited and said that he would do something about the Norwich Heights road. And to add to Norwich Heights there are some inner roads on the hills of Passley Gardens … quite a number of lots there, and the people built their houses but it’s like waterways now cutting into the road and causing them a lot of discomfort while they try to traverse those roads to get home and get to Port Antonio,” he stated.
Other glaring challenges exist, Speid continued, one of which is water distribution which he described as “terrible”.
“There is no water security out there. People are saying to me that they get water in their pipes once per week, and that cannot work. I am acutely aware that Portland gets a lot of rain — in fact, more than any other parish — so water security has got to be a big thing. It needs immediate attention. It has been a good experience for me, and I think I have left a good taste in the mouths of the people over there.”
Speid was quick to point out that, contrary to talk elsewhere, he is neither a citizen nor resident of the United States, thus qualifying him to contest national elections in Jamaica.
“I have made all the necessary arrangements [so] that if I am informed that I am the standard-bearer, I will make that transition seamlessly. I am not a citizen or resident of the United States of America; people are using the term migration wrongfully.
“I am on a contract working in a different country. I reside there, but I am not a resident. I don’t have a green card nor a US passport,” he emphasised, while adding that “the whole thing of ‘ born ya and live ya and naa leave ya’ is out the window now because people have now come to realise that I was born and grew up in Portland, and attended Titchfield High School”.
“I applied to the party. The party has responded to me but I prefer not to comment on process — I leave that to the party’s general secretary or party chairman to comment.
“As far as I know, the race is wide open. In fact, the first aspirant in the race is now changing his words to say that ‘if I get the nod’; he is not saying now that he is the candidate. That’s a clear indication that the race is quite open.
“I will be continuing the work, and the people are gravitating towards my candidacy overwhelmingly. I visited all divisions. I went to some funerals in the Fellowship Division and the people received me happily as if I was there long ago and campaigning. The name is spreading more into the households more than the popular Port Antonio Coronation hot bread. I feel pleased that I would have penetrated quite a lot but there is a lot more work to be done, more communities that I didn’t get to go into, but in the coming days and weeks I will be going into those communities,” Speid said.
“The people are so happy that they are not stuck with just the one aspirant. They believe that I am quite viable and see me as someone whom they believe has the capacity to represent them, not only at the constituency level but in Parliament.
As for his opponent, Speid said that he had not met with Bell while he visited the communities but shared that he was hoping to see him in the Fellowship Division “while those funerals were being conducted in the division, but he didn’t show up”.
He also told the Sunday Observer that he has received assurance from the two sitting PNP councillors in Portland Eastern — seven-term veteran Dexter “Stepper” Rowland of the Port Antonio Division, and Wayne McKenzie of the Prospect Division — that they are in full support of his candidacy. McKenzie is a former mayor of Port Antonio.
The Jamaica Labour Party has control of the Portland Municipal Corporation with six divisions to two held by the PNP. There is no longer an elected councillor for the Fellowship Division, as the JLP’s Irvin Brown died while in office.
“Both councillors assured and reassured me that they are backing me 100 per cent, and were unwavering in their support for me. They walked with me, they moved around with me, so that’s the evidence,” Speid said of Rowland and McKenzie.
“I have massive support from members of the constituency executive, outside of those two councillors. One said to me recently, ‘Mr Speid, just keep going. Don’t leave,’ because they want me to be their next standard-bearer and they know that I can and will win that seat.
“I am comfortable where I am now,” Speid ended.
Attempts to contact PNP General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell to determine the status of the contest, failed. Dr Campbell did not respond to a written request for a comment, nor did he answer or return calls placed to his cellular phone up to Saturday.