ST. THOMAS — Virgin Islanders in the St. Thomas-St. John District voted out Senator Jean Forde on Tuesday night, an apparent rebuke, among other reasons, to comments Mr. Forde made in March, 2017, when he said he would not accept a pay cut as a senator.
The comments came during a town hall meeting held on St. Croix, when an audience member asked whether senators would accept a $10,000 or $20,000 salary cut. The story, first published by The Consortium, garnered widespread attention. And a video published by VIC was watched more than 32,000 times.
“I will tell you straight up, that if this job was paying $20,000 less, I would not run for it,” Mr. Forde said during the town hall. “Because 1), I was making more than that — as a matter of fact, it is a lateral move for me. 2), It’s because that my efforts, my energy of what I have put in, that I am giving the money’s worth.”
By then, the audience had started to mumble, a sign of dissent among constituents.
Mr. Forde continued: “I know this might not be popular to say…. But I’m telling you that I think that I am worth what I’m being paid.” The senator said if he’d accepted the current salary of $85,000 and thought that he was not deserving of it, “then I would be guilty of some degree of fraud. And I have never defrauded this government,” he said.
“And this is not a popular position to take,” Mr. Forde went on, “but I can tell you that I could not afford to make less than what I’m making.” The dissent among residents attending the town hall was palpable, with mumbles turning into outright audible denunciations of Mr. Forde’s remarks.
Mr. Forde said his aim was to empower individuals, and he pointed to his landmark legislation of minimum wage increase. “I believe in empowering people,” Mr. Forde said resolutely, but the audience was in an uproar by then, with the moderator attempting to restore order.
The senator then pivoted, suggesting that the community’s call for a reduction in the pay of lawmakers, amounted to teaching the territory’s youth that they are not worth high salaries.
“We have got to be very careful as we send our children off to become educated, and we tell our children that 1), Your parents are not even worth the salary that they’re making, therefore you simply can’t even make that kind of salary,” Mr. Forde said, which again provoked the audience’s ire. “I am saying that I am worth my salary, and if the salary was less, I’m not going to run for it.”
When given the opportunity to respond, a resident assailed Mr. Forde.
“Most of us in here are not getting paid and haven’t been paid — especially a lot of retirees — what we are worth, and they still owe retirees back money, retro, that no one talks about,” she said.