By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune News Editor
SHANE Gibson said Fred Mitchell was “out of order” for saying the pool of candidates eligible for the upcoming West Grand Bahama and Bimini by-election is limited to those the PLP considered in 2021, a restriction the party publicly reversed yesterday when the secretary general announced that qualified candidates include all members in good standing.
“I don’t want to get into a public fight with the chairman,” Mr Gibson said, referring to a comment Mr Mitchell made in a voice note last week that public officials must know when to move on. Mr Mitchell did not name anyone in particular.
“The chairman is 70, I’m 62,” said Mr Gibson. “The results of my ministry is clear. I built 1,500 houses in my first term in office.
“I didn’t have a ministry where I could fly up and down all over the place and that’s my ministry. I had a ministry where I had to actually work, not where I fly, interact, have coffee and tea and drinks and cigars. My ministry is helping people and getting things done.”
The rare public display of tension between two former PLP Cabinet colleagues comes as the governing party expects to stop accepting applications from potential nominees at midnight tomorrow.
Although no date has been announced for the by-election, The Tribune understands PLP officials want to choose someone in less than two weeks.
Chief Passport Officer Kingsley Smith, Jr, confirmed yesterday that he will seek the nomination. Mr Smith applied in 2021 but received little support from constituency branches, which rallied around Obie Wilchcombe, who died unexpectedly last month.
Another applicant getting buzz is Samuel Brown, 32, a lawyer born and raised in West End whose uncle, Simeon Brown, represented the constituency in the House of Assembly in the 1990s.
Mr Gibson travelled to Grand Bahama last Thursday to rally support after Mr Wilchcombe’s state funeral.
Several dozen people in PLP paraphernalia attended a welcoming event for him when he returned to that island yesterday.
Insiders say Mr Gibson is not the favourite of the PLP’s establishment. Some see him as a polarising figure from the past and fear the general electorate would respond negatively to his return to frontline politics even if he can win the West Grand Bahama and Bimini seat.
Despite the visible support for him, some insiders also believe PLP supporters would coalesce behind any candidate the party chooses.
“We have determined that whoever the candidate is, we will support them 100 per cent,” said Kitty Saunders, the PLP’s Bimini constituency association chair. She said she favours Mr Gibson, but her branch has mixed views.
Mr Gibson sees himself as the people’s choice.
“You could have it two ways,” he told a crowd in Grand Bahama yesterday. “You could either have the party’s choice or the people’s choice, and I am what you call the people’s choice.”
Mr Gibson told The Tribune residents of the constituency approached him to be their representative. Last year, he told the press he planned to return to frontline politics and hoped to run in the MICAL constituency in the next general election because residents there wanted him.
Yesterday, he said he has familial and political connections to the West Grand Bahama and Bimini constituency.
He said his wife was born and raised in Eight Mile Rock, a community he visited often as a trade union leader.
He said when he toured West Grand Bahama with Mr Wilchcombe after Hurricane Jeanne and Frances devastated the island in 2004, he helped lead efforts to repair people’s homes.
“Through a by-election, you have an entire machinery who is going to come out there,” he said. “Once that by-election has ended, the only person you have to rely on is that member of parliament to be your voice, so the member of parliament must be somebody who needs minimum supervision, who can get out there and not only get things done but have the respect of people sitting around the table.”
Mr Gibson said he had not talked to the PLP’s leader, Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis, about his nomination bid.
“The only person I’ve heard talk about this is Fred Mitchell,” he said. “And Fred Mitchell is the same person who told Obie you’re not running and who told the people of West End and Bimini that Obie is not running.
“It is not surprising that he will now further entrench himself in a position that he tried to entrench himself in two years ago when it was Obie’s time.”