Tracy Davidson-Celestine, newly-elected leader of the Tobago Council of the ruling PNM, once again has her eyes set on a higher position – the overall leader of the party.
“I ran for political leader of the PNM in 2016 and I have been in politics for quite some time now. So what is in front of me is what I am accustomed to and a position I have been preparing for ever since I entered politics.
“When you enter politics you would ultimately try to move to the highest level within the political organisation,” she said in an interview with Sunday Newsday.
For now, Davidson-Celestine has her work cut out for her: healing the rifts after a fiercely contested campaign in which she trounced her main opponent, Kelvin Charles, in a runoff last weekend.
Davidson-Celestine, who comes from Betsy’s Hope, spent 12 years as an assemblyman in the Orville London-led THA as the Speyside/L’Anse Fourmi/Parlatuvier representative, and was a deputy chief secretary of the THA. She is TT’s Ambassador to Costa Rica.
With the support of defeated leadership candidates Joel Jack and Dr Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus, she won the runoff with 3,050 votes, while Charles got 2,042.
In so doing, Davidson-Celestine created history by becoming the first woman to lead the 22-year-old council.
In the interview on Friday at the Mt Irvine Beach Resort, Tobago, she said she is not daunted by the challenges that confront her as the council’s first female leader.
“I take things one day at a time and I pray and ask for guidance as well, in order to ensure that I have the strength to surmount every challenge that I face.”
And apart from prayers, “I would ensure that I am able to mobilise the people within the party to guide, propel and help to make the right decisions.”
Although she called on Charles to step down as Chief Secretary after his defeat, Davidson-Celestine insists there is no acrimony between them.
“My relationship with Mr Charles continues to be a professional one,” she said. “All throughout 2016 (the last Tobago Council internal election) to now, Mr Charles and I have been very cordial in our discussions. We greet each other. We are very, very friendly, and I will really expect that to continue. I have spoken to him and he has spoken to me.
“We are on the same page, where the politics is concerned, to ensure we are organised in the best possible way.”
She is aware, though, that post-runoff comments on social media, as well as talk within party circles, tells a different story. People commented on the seeming tensions between them; some observed that when they had to acknowledge each other, the greetings seemed lacklustre and staged.
Davidson-Celestine said she has chosen to concentrate on the “bigger picture” – healing the party and strategising for the upcoming general election this year and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections, constitutionally due in 2021.
Saying she has made some strides, Davidson-Celestine told Sunday Newsday: “At the level of the Tobago Council of the PNM executive, most of the (new) members would have reached out to me to express congratulations and more so, to indicate that they are willing to work with me in moving the interests of the party forward and in dealing with the development of Tobago.”
She said she had pledged during the campaign to work with everyone and, “I would expect that going forward, in terms of the Tobago executive, that there are no more ‘teams’ and that we focus on the bigger picture.”
Davidson-Celestine, who, like Charles, fielded a slate of 17 candidates, now has five members on the council’s executive.
Asked how this dynamic is likely to work, she said this would be a part of the responsibilities of the reconciliation committee. The committee, she said, underpins her 100-day plan for moving the party forward.
“You have to give people time to heal and express their views.
“I am thinking it is an excellent proposal (the committee) and it will allow people to vent and eventually, after that venting process is over, the process of healing and reconciliation will start.
“And so one may expect that the reconciliation may happen as soon as is possible. But the committee will help and guide that process right through the end.”
Davidson-Celestine has not yet selected members for the committee but expects to do so by the end of next week.
“I am meeting with the executive of the Tobago Council on Tuesday and I will put forward suggestions for the members of the committee, and thereafter that will be made public.”
She acknowledged there is now work to be done to unite the party.
“It is mainly about bringing east and west together, bringing the leaders and officers together, especially those who would have lost. Within all of those teams, you have quite a lot of expertise, and you don’t want to lose that going forward.”
Davidson-Celestine said one major plank in developing the party will be the proposed construction of the council’s new headquarters. Empowering the women’s arm and youth groups is also high on her agenda.
As political leader, Davidson-Celestine said she intends to contest an electoral district in the THA election.
“If you want to take the development forward, then obviously you would have to contest a seat. But I have not determined yet which that will be. Within the next few months, when we have gone past this stage of the politics, then I will start looking towards that.”
Davidson-Celestine is confident the party could regain some semblance of normality before the general election.
“I really don’t anticipate any serious challenges in terms of preparing for those elections. I am very optimistic.”
After the healing period, she intends to establish a campaign team to strategise for the general election.
“That team will take into consideration all of the issues and opportunities, all of the threats out there in the environment – and then over the next few months we will start rolling out the strategy that will help us to win both the general election and the THA elections.”