(Observer)As political stalwart Sir Robin Yearwood looks to serve what could be his final term in office, political hopefuls have thrown their hats into the ring as the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) gears up to hold what could be described as its first true primary in the constituency.
Observer media has confirmed that the candidates for the position are the son of Sir Robin, Robin Yearwood Jr; former campaign manager and political analyst Dr Oswald Thomas; community activist Randy Baltimore; and Managing Director of the National Housing Programme Telly Cornelius.
Sir Robin has been the Member of Parliament for the St Philip’s North constituency—which covers the villages of Glanvilles, Willikies, Seatons and Newfield—since 1976 and is one of the longest consecutively serving MPs in the Caribbean.
Observer media spoke to three of the candidates about their political ambitions.
Robin Yearwood Jr, son of the political stalwart, wants to separate himself from father’s legacy
Robin Yearwood Jr this week announced his plans to take over from his father in the next election in a letter to FitzGerald Patrick, Chair of the ABLP St Philip’s North branch.
His letter argued that while being known as “the likkle red bwoy for Robin” or “little Robin” could be seen as a positive, he “also appreciates that, on the alternative, this can be a hindrance as some may write me off before I show my intent to build on the development of the St Philip’s North constituency”.
Yearwood Jr, a practicing attorney in the UK, said his intention is to provide the constituency with the energy, dedication, vision and dynamic thinking “which my age and experience as a young attorney has to offer”.
He added that as part of his dedication to the constituency, he plans to take the conversion course in order to be called to the Bar in Antigua and Barbuda as he is currently still in the United Kingdom.
As part of his plans for the area, Yearwood Jr said he hopes to combine the “wisdom of the older constituents and the views of the future thinking younger generations to create an approach that is in line with the constituency ethics of social cohesion”.
“I also aim to be part of a cohesive and vibrant constituency team comprising of young and old members from all villages within the constituency that creates opportunities for all within to listen, understand and build on the progress that has been made by the current representative and community activists,” he noted.
He said constituents should be able to earn a good living, to progress themselves and to meet their family needs without having to leave the constituency and argued that St Philip’s North should be one of the leading areas in Antigua.
“I am in discussions with another leading manufacturer and supplier in the meat production and processing industry, where I am putting together a package which includes the supply and construction of a brand new abattoir and poultry unit,” Yearwood Jr explained.
Yearwood Jr also wrote that the political party has been “hanging on a shoestring” since the 2023 general election and called on party supporters to select him to lead them.
“It is common knowledge that the party did not fare as well, or should I say gloriously, in the last general election.
“I was in Antigua for the last election…so I managed to observe and listen to some of the constituents to take on board their opinion on what they felt worked well during the last campaign and the areas in which they felt could be improved upon,” he added.
Dr Oswald Thomas says Sir Robin ‘groomed’ him for the role
Dr Oswald Thomas, who confirmed to Observer that he was vying for the position, claims his work as the campaign manager for Sir Robin Yearwood has elevated him to the top spot in the running to replace his former boss.
“I have worked with Sir Robin over the years, and he groomed me for that position, but it has stemmed from my work over the years as his aide and his advisor, as his campaign manager,” Dr Thomas told Observer.
“The people have always seen me as a natural replacement. As a matter of fact, it has been expected by the hierarchy of the party for a long time and so now that Sir Robin will be leaving politics, I think that it is the right time,” he explained.
According to Dr Thomas, after the 2004 United Progressive Party (UPP) election victory, Sir Robin contemplated retiring from political office and spoke to him as a potential replacement.
“He called me into his bedroom and told me to “get ready to take over” and he, too, feels that I am the best person to take over the constituency.
“I have done a lot of work in the constituency in terms of service. Even though I have been overseas, I have never left my community and I will continue to contribute,” he said.
Dr Thomas, who said he is well known by the constituents as ‘the Organiser’, spoke more about his community work in the constituency, including at the various clinics.
“I have formed Sons and Daughters of Willikies, I have worked with them to get the Willikies [Primary] School renamed Nelvie N Gore Primary, where we have supported all the children at that school with bags, school supplies, and established a reading programme.
“We have also supplied the polyclinic with basic things that they don’t get from the Ministry of Health,” he said.
Dr Thomas said he believes he is the right man to become the next constituency representative.
“My folks say as long as I go into the primary, nobody can beat you. I am well known within the constituency, I am connected in the constituency and I am committed to the development of the constituency,” he explained.
“I strongly believe that I am the candidate to keep that seat in the ABLP column, and no disrespect to any of my opponents, but I feel they will have an uphill battle against the UPP candidate, but I don’t think that I would have that.”
Dr Thomas added that the party has to get its candidate right if it hopes to retain the seat in the 2028 general election.
Telly Cornelius: National Housing Development boss says he’s ready for political office
Managing Director of National Housing Development and Urban Renewal, Telly Cornelius, says he is ready to move into active politics as he seeks to replace Sir Robin Yearwood as the representative for St Philip’s North.
“We all know that Sir Robin would have basically advised that he is no longer stepping up so it therefore means that the opportunity would have created itself for individuals within the community to fill the void.
“I think that the void that will be left by Sir Robin is definitely one that I think I am more than capable of filling,” he told Observer media.
Cornelius argued that his wealth of experience in leadership roles will benefit the constituency.
“My background as it relates to development, I will be able to create employment opportunities for individuals in the constituency and basically placing the constituency in a place where I think we need to go.
“I think St Philip’s North sits in a unique place where we can utilise the natural resources around us to create employment,” he stated.
“National Housing is a unique organisation and that has given me the opportunity to touch base with the common man and get an idea as to what everyone’s needs and expectations are,” he added.
The political hopeful also spoke to the daunting task of replacing Sir Robin in the ABLP ranks, stating that nobody could fill the big shoes of Sir Robin but he is confident that he can continue his legacy.
He also spoke about the challenge of facing at least four persons as they all seek to be named as the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party candidate.
“I’m in no way, shape or form daunted. I must say though, like all the individuals that you have mentioned, they’re all capable in their own right, but at the end of the day, the people would definitely support who they think is best,” he stated.
He added that his campaign to gain the support of the ABLP supporters has been going well and that he is similarly undaunted by the prospect of facing any opposition candidates in a general election.
Community activist Randy Baltimore says his work began a long time ago
Community activist Randy Baltimore believes his work in the constituency has long prepared him for the role of ABLP candidate for St Philip’s North.
Speaking to Observer yesterday, the political hopeful stated that his reason for entering the race is to “serve the people that I love of St Philip’s North and to help in the development of the constituency”.
“My work has begun a long time ago, in terms of aiding the Nelvie N Gore Primary School, different community projects within the village, different sponsorships in the aid of young people in their entrepreneur ambitions,” he said.
The political hopeful said he is unconcerned about his potential opponents for the position, arguing that his name is well known within the area.
“The process is a democratic one…and my work in the community has begun long time and I am going forward in meeting the people face to face and hearing their opinions,” he explained.
Baltimore said the people know of his commitment and dedication to community development and that, unlike some of the other contenders for the ABLP ticket, he has been engaging in this work prior to running for active politics.
“That is how I am confident that the people will see the work, see the connection that I have with the constituency ever since,” he noted.
Baltimore also referred multiple times to his connection and work alongside the exiting political giant, Sir Robin Yearwood, noting frequent canvassing efforts and campaigning for Sir Robin’s re-election bids.
Baltimore also spoke about his confidence in winning a general election against the United Progressive Party or Democratic National Alliance candidates, especially considering the seat has been a Labour Party stronghold since the first election in 1976.
“Whoever the candidate is for the UPP or any other political party, I know that I will have the full support of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party and will be taking that seat again for the next general election and will remain a garrison for the [ABLP],” he added.