BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 2, 2015–He is not worried about winning by a landslide margin; in fact, the incumbent mayor of Belize City, Darrell Bradley, a lawyer by profession, told us that even if he wins by one vote, it would mean that he would get to continue the work program he has led for the past three years in Belize’s commercial capital – Belize City, the municipality which is home to 41% of the voters who are eligible to participate in this Wednesday’s elections.
However, Bradley will be facing two challengers – Yolanda Schakron, the mayoral candidate for the Opposition People’s United Party, and Eustaquio “Ernesto” Torres, who ran on separate occasions under the PUP and the UDP, but who is making a bid for the mayoral seat as an independent candidate, despite dismal support the last time he ran.
Torres claimed that he has been getting more support from voters than he did when he first emerged as an independent candidate in 2012. He claims that he could net in excess of 8,000 votes and would make history as the city’s first independent mayor because, “people are not happy with Darrell!”
Schakron also believes that voters are irate with Bradley. They both cite the management of the city’s infrastructure projects, as well as hikes in property taxes, trade license fees and driver’s license fees as reasons why city dwellers want Bradley out.
Torres said that the Council wasted a lot of resources focusing on fixing streets that did not warrant the investment, while leaving out others that badly needed repairs. He also said that the materials extracted from some of the concreted streets could have been used to begin resurfacing some of the other streets that were in need of fill materials. People want to see that their monies are being well spent, he said.
Bradley believes, though, that voters appreciate the efforts of a hardworking administration. He told us that while fees and taxes were raised, residents of the city have been seeing the benefits and the rise in taxes has been counterbalanced with residents “getting increased deliverables…”
“People don’t mind paying as long as the rates are fair,” said Bradley, who asked: “How does the council run without taxes?” He said that the increases have been rational and across the board and maintains that “the city costs money to run…”
When we spoke with Bradley this evening, he was calm, “relaxing…” and feeling “pretty optimistic…”
Schakron was also confident when we spoke with her a week ago, while she was pounding the pavement in Belize City.
“People are anxious to come out and vote,” she said.
She said that city residents have a lot of issues with streets and drainage, the lack of proper parks and playgrounds and sporting facilities, as well as a high rate of joblessness – which she says feeds into the cycle of high crime and they take issue with “the tremendous rise in property taxes and fees being charged,” as well as fines for bicycle traffic offenses, which are considered petty crimes.
“Then also we have a very big concern about where they withhold driver’s license if someone owes property tax,” she said, adding that some people who have been experiencing financial hardships complain that they cannot afford to pay the property tax. She said that if elected, she will remove this requirement imposed by the present council, which she said is illegal.
For his part, Bradley told us that he has received overwhelming endorsements of support during his campaign and the response he has received is “very encouraging.” He admits that city residents are concerned about drainage problems and the need for additional infrastructure works, but they are hopeful that those works will be done.
As for a timeline for completion, Bradley said he would not venture to provide one to us, as he is very mindful of the financial constraints and limitations of the Council. He said that currently, they are focusing on remedial street works, as well as drainage.
Bradley said that the Council and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry have agreed to dialogue to revamp the trade license regime, in light of concerns expressed over the existing regime.
He indicated that several of the park renovation projects have come with income generation opportunities, such as 28 businesses now located in BTL Park, 2 in Battlefield Park and 5 more to open in Memorial Park.
However, the Council has had its hardships over the years, chief among them being the dispute over the settlement of arrears for sanitation contracts. Bradley said that while they have settled one of those contracts, there remains the contract with Belize Maintenance Limited, for which the Council has to settle a judgment of over $2 mil and which will be among its priorities after the elections are over – assuming he is returned to office.
He laments not having had the opportunity to complete the Commercial Center project, as well as the expansion project for the Philip Goldson Highway, leading into Belize City.
While Bradley is committed to continue working as mayor of Belize City, he will continue to leave his options open, as he still wants to run as a candidate in the Caribbean Shores division in a future general election, as early as 2017. He told us that he has always made it known that he wants to seek higher office, but there are a lot of factors that will determine how soon he makes his foray into national politics.