This tension between Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley first spilled over into the public domain when Bradley missed the end of March deadline to submit his application for re-election as the UDP mayoral candidate. Four weeks later, in late April, the Prime Minister actually declared that there would be no reopening of the deadline – “that’s out of the question,” he had said at the time.
But politics, they say, is the art of compromise, and not too long after, Bradley committed to run again, and the two councilors who had actually applied to replace Bradley publicly withdrew their candidacy at a press conference, where the Prime Minister also announced that central government was gifting City Hall $10 million because they were so impressed with the Mayor’s street cementing program.
At the time the scuttlebutt was that the popular Mayor had been able to wrest an agreement that would see him run again as mayor, presumably win, and then step up to run in Caribbean Shores. He had made no effort to keep secret his national ambition and where he hoped those ambitions would take him. It sounded like a neat conclusion to a hiccup of sorts for the country’s Maximum Leader.
But oftentimes in politics, as we’ve come to learn, agreements are not worth the paper they are written on, and things happen. We fast-forward to August of this year, and the workers of Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) are in front of City Hall making a big stink about their imminent termination from the sanitation company. All because the Mayor and the Council were again behind in their payments to BML and the company’s owner had announced he could no longer realistically meet his weekly wage bill. That protest on North Front Street ended up with dozens of the workers detained at the infamous Queen Street “Pisshouse” for many hours before being granted bail. They were to be slapped with a slew of charges in the Magistrate’s Court the following day.
In media interviews, the Mayor was digging in, but the national television coverage of the sanitation workers behind bars, pleading for a chance to keep their jobs so they could continue to feed their children and send them to school, was jarring and becoming an embarrassment for central government.
The Prime Minister was forced to intervene and he guaranteed BML would be paid for the remaining months of its contract, thereby saving the jobs of the workers. In turn, the Council would take on the 170 BML workers when its contract with the sanitation company comes to an end in mid-January 2015. Again, it sounded like a neat conclusion to a hiccup of sorts for the country’s Maximum Leader. That was to be the end of that. But again, as we’ve said, oftentimes in politics, agreements are not worth the paper they are written on.
Over the last few weeks, Mayor Bradley has been saying that taking on the 170 workers is causing him sleepless nights. But Mayor Bradley being Mayor Bradley, and as much as he is interviewed by the local media, we didn’t read too much into his comments. After all, the Maximum Leader had spoken. But Channel 7 News two weeks ago broke the news that the Mayor had actually packed up his bags and had been spending most of his time at his law office on Regent Street. The always-available Bradley was suddenly unavailable for comment, until a week later at the annual tree-lighting ceremony at Mule Park.
In that interview with Channel 7, the Mayor attempted to put the rumors of his imminent resignation at rest, insisting that no one resigns with three months to go in their term, but he did not quite say that he was running for reelection.
When Barrow was interviewed by 7 News on Monday of this week, he said he didn’t know anything about the Mayor wavering and that he “would think that he [Bradley] is going to run again.” But Mayor Bradley gave a full-length interview two days later, on Wednesday, and he still could not firmly say whether he was running, pointedly saying that adding 170 workers to the rolls at City Hall is a “bad idea” and that if things can’t work, “then I know what I have to do.”
Ominous words, if you are a UDP, but still no firm statement on whether he is leaving or staying.
It may be that the Mayor, who by some accounts is favored to win a second term, is angling for a way to get the Prime Minister to commit that central government will carry the cost of those 170 workers over the life of another term. After all, we have not heard any such public commitment from the Prime Minister except that the “people’s jobs must be preserved.”
With the future of the PetroCaribe initiative precarious at best, and with the bonds that financed all those cement streets coming due in a second term, and with no real new revenue stream in sight, the Mayor knows it will be hard to top his first act.
But it is quite possible that a bone may be in the throat of the Mayor, and it’s a bone that may be hard to dislodge. Our sources say that the Mayor really wants to step up to Caribbean Shores, and while the scuttlebutt was that a deal had been cut, of late it appears Santi Castillo, the Shores representative, is not going anywhere. Of late he has been featured in a lengthy television ad and our sources say he is doing his version of digging in. Truth is, Santi walking away was never an easy proposition; almost no one walks away from the perks of a Cabinet minister.
If the latter is true, and the deal Bradley thought he had is turning out to be not so much of a deal, then the question of whether the Mayor will run again is a real issue. Channel 7 swears by their sources that something is afoot with the Mayor. It’s an intriguing thought for the pundits, and probably a source of some anxiety for the ruling UDP. After all, Bradley has put his personal stamp on his tenure as Mayor, and they cannot be sure another candidate can claim credit for the Mayor’s good works.
With that said, there has been much chatter in some quarters of late that Barrow may roll the dice and go two in one in March, which is to say, have the general and municipal elections on the same day, as has been done in each of the last three general elections. It would be the earliest a general election has ever been called, a full 24 months early.
But anything is possible: Barrow may be fixated on a third term, and the Constitution affords him the power to call the election at a time of his choosing. And with the Opposition PUP appearing to be in less than ideal fighting form, and we are being generous here, then who knows. Just some food for thought on Thursday, December 11…