Long Island has been a nearly certain Free National Movement (FNM) seat for decades now – the one recent exception being the 2002 victory of independent candidate Larry Cartwright, who later joined the FNM and went on to become the party’s representative for the constituency.
Even the most optimistic Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) supporters count the Long Island seat as an FNM one long before the votes are tallied.
The FNM retained only seven out of 39 seats in last week’s general election, and one of them was Long Island.
This was in spite of the FNM’s candidate for the island, Adrian Gibson, coming under fire in recent weeks over the questionable award of contracts at Water and Sewerage Corporation, where he served as executive chairman.
Gibson won Long Island with 55 percent (728) of the 1,326 votes cast. His support held firm as he won 53 percent in 2017.
The playing out of the events surrounding Gibson prompted many to question the reasons behind Long Islanders’ seemingly unwavering support for the FNM.
While some observers criticize what they view as blind loyalty by Long Islanders to a party that has delivered on just the bare minimum in recent years, conversations with locals highlight the complex history the island has had with both parties.
One observer noted that Long Island’s relationship with the PLP is ironic, given that two of the party’s founders – Henry Milton Taylor and William Cartwright – were Long Islanders.
But for many, the PLP is still associated with bad memories from the Pindling era.
Many recount that when the island was still split into two constituencies – with North Long Island voting PLP and Central and South Long Island voting anything but – electricity and paved roads stretched from the northern end of the island to the constituency line, where both ended abruptly.
Tryphena Bowe-Knowles, 64, said she was one of those people left with a sour taste in their mouths over the issue at the time.
Now a resident of McKann’s, Bowe-Knowles lived just one settlement south, in Thompson Bay, when she was younger, and, therefore, she witnessed firsthand when the electricity stopped just north of their home and she and others were left to do without.
“That is a big factor across the board,” she said.
“And I happened to be midway in my life in Thompson Bay when the electricity stopped in McKann’s.”
The FNM’s election in 1992 brought about long-awaited infrastructural upgrades on the southern half of the island, and with it, a spirit of dedication among many residents to the party that made it happen.
Bowe-Knowles said, “These are the things that cause the older persons – people in the range of say 45, 50, 60 and up – who would stay voting for the FNM because they felt like we may have made a breakthrough with our electricity, and with Mr. Gibson, there was a breakthrough with our water.”
For some, the FNM delivered on at least one important promise during its last term – running water.
Like many islands in The Bahamas, Long Island is prone to suffering from long dry spells.
Prior to very recently, much of the island still did not have access to potable water from WSC, relying instead on collected rainwater to function.
While some parts of the island are able to take advantage of wells, in other areas, the digging only produces saltwater.
Many in those parts can recall their childhoods of toting water – putting seagrape leaves in their containers to prevent spilling – when their rainwater tanks ran dry.
While WSC now delivers truckloads of water to residents whose tanks run out, the waiting list in particularly dry spells could be weeks long.
So, the FNM’s fulfilled promise of access to potable water has proven to be an important step forward for some, and a reason to support Gibson, not only as an MP, but also as a WSC decision-maker.
Cheryl De Goicoechea, who owns a boutique hotel on the island, said the lack of running water deeply impacted her business.
She said that during dry months, while WSC delivers water, the long wait is problematic.
“So in that case, on many occasions and for many months at a time, I have not been able to take any guests into my guesthouse,” De Goicoechea said.
“So basically during those dry months, I pretty much close my business down, not because I want to but because I don’t have any other choice, because I will not have a guest arrive at my place and have to restrict them to limited water usage or they can’t do some laundry. And then once they check out, I am not able to do the laundry.”
De Goicoechea said the new access to potable water from WSC is “like a dream come true”.
“I just wish my mom and dad were here to witness this event,” she said.
Bowe-Knowles is still waiting on running water in McKann’s, which is known to be an area that traditionally supports the PLP.
“The water situation was beneficial to quite a few persons,” she said.
“But the settlements of Millers and McKann’s are still waiting on water.
“… I’m affected by that move. Although there’s water right over the hill in Thompson Bay, it’s not here where I live.
“And it has just turned some of the people away.”
Bowe-Knowles hopes the Davis-led government will govern for all Bahamians, and finally deliver on years-old promises of an international airport on the island.
“I pray that the incoming government would not just try and do a tit for tat that has been going on for so long, and that they would just step up and make sure that the airport is in place and that the unfortunate areas that don’t have water will receive water and we will get an ambulance,” she said.
“I think the government should be for all people.
“… They need to look outside the box of doing things for political reasons and just help us all as Bahamians.”
While on the campaign trail, Philip Brave Davis, leader of the PLP, promised Long Islanders that his government will do for them what others haven’t, assuring that the “new day” promised by the party is for everyone.
“Long Island, I have come to ask you to give us a chance,” he said during a PLP motorcade before the election.
“You have had an FNM representative, an FNM government for how many years, and what have they done for you?
“Just tell me what they have done for you. For all these years you have only had an FNM representative. Give us a chance and you will see that we will deliver.”
Davis said that under his government, the water project will be extended to cover all the island’s settlements.
“There will be no spitefulness. There will be no vindictiveness. There will only be Bahamians getting what they deserve under my administration,” he pledged.
“And that is why I have been telling everyone that the new day is for all of us, not just any one particular person.”
Davis also assured that a new airport, long requested by residents on the island, will be completed under his government.
“We had already decided about the airport and the airport will be completed,” he said.
“Quite frankly, getting things done takes a long time. But I can tell you that with Brave at the helm, it won’t be long to get the things that you need.”
Former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson, who was born on Long Island, and represented the Carmichael constituency in New Providence while in Parliament, said he believes young people might be more willing to support the PLP given the party’s showing in the 2021 election.
Bowe-Knowles believes the same.
“Recently, we have been getting more votes on Long Island as a whole for the PLP,” she said.
“And after the recent election, it proved that a lot of the people have changed their opinions for different reasons.”
The PLP’s Long Island candidate Tyrel Young got 43 percent of the votes in the election last week.
This compares to the PLP’s 2017 candidate, Glendon Rolle, who got 32 percent of the votes in 2017, when Loretta Butler-Turner, the former FNM deputy, was also in that race as an independent.