Krystal Tomlinson turned down a number of opportunities to become the People’s National Party’s (PNP) standard-bearer in various constituencies before finally saying yes to her home turf, St Andrew West Rural.
The former Miss Jamaica Festival Queen had been making waves and winning the admiration of many as she joined the PNP’s youth arm, seeking to motivate more young people to take up positions of leadership. In 2018, she became its president.
“When I just entered raw politics, through the PNP Youth Organization (PNPYO), there was a lot of talk about whether I wanted to run for a seat. There were talks about young, bright people, and people wanting to see some more young people in the PNP,” she told The Sunday Gleaner. “This is a seat, do you want it? There is a seat, do you want it, and I said no.
“At the time, no interest. No passion for it, and it was not in my cross hairs. I wanted to encourage youths to be a part of national leadership,” Tomlinson explained.
That changed last year when the party’s caretaker for St Andrew West Rural resigned and speculation grew that a general election could be called in the wake of the bruising PNP leadership challenge last September.
Scores of conversations and three months later, she warmed to the idea.
“I said yes, not only because people on the ground believed in me, but I was actually from the constituency. I was born in Golden Spring,” Tomlinson said as she sat with The Sunday Gleaner two weeks ago, taking a break from campaigning.
She will face off with Olympian Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, who has just completed her first lap in the House of Representatives.
As Tomlinson walked the streets of St Andrew West Rural, our news team watched as she engaged with an elderly resident, Miss Black, like a respectful granddaughter. She listened attentively. Her eyes never left the elderly woman’s face.
It was unclear whether the woman would be supporting Tomlinson, but she later told The Sunday Gleaner: “She listened to every word I said, and talked back with so much respect.”
Throughout the afternoon, she would speak with mothers like their daughter, to young men and women like a sister, and to others like a friend. She engaged them effortlessly in several districts, pounding the pavement and walking through dirt tracks and crooked pathways to share her vision and listen to the concerns of constituents.
Running a campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, has not been all bad.
“I see more benefits than I see disadvantages. It’s a lot more small groups, face-to-face, one-on-one or five-on-five conversations that allow you to spend more time with people versus a big, mass gathering, where you have one message for everybody and hope that somebody pick out something,” Tomlinson said. “You can have a conversation with five persons here and there … . It takes more time, but thankfully, more people are likely to be home.”
An author, communications consultant, entrepreneur, internationally ranked debater and mother to a toddler, Tomlinson is no stranger to the public domain. She is a former host of the syndicated television show Nyammings and is accustomed to occupying the private space of the Jamaican public.
It is a privilege she has not taken for granted and is humbled by the “overwhelmingly positive response” from the constituents.
“We are on the same team. I might run for a different party, but at the end of the day, the goal is to work with you to develop our home,” she told them.
In the last two general elections, constituents have booted the incumbents.
Andrew Gallimore of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), who won in 2002 and 2007, was tossed in 2011. In that election, the PNP’s Paul Buchanan polled 7,605 ballots to Gallimore’s 7,433.
One term later, in a huge swing, Buchanan was unseated by the JLP’s Cuthbert Flynn, who secured 9,736 votes to Buchanan’s 7,638 in 2016.
Focused On Development
Tomlinson said she is not focused on her rival, but on constituency development, calling herself the “facilitator for progress”.
“I still cannot believe that 30 years after I was born, we still have persons taking up a bucket of water and throwing it on themselves to rinse off. I lived that life – having to wash at the river, to bathe outside, or bathe in bath pan,” she told The Sunday Gleaner. “And I could not imagine that we have so failed our people and our communities that that was still the reality of children in 2020.”
She pointed to improved roads, water and employment opportunities as priority issues for St Andrew West Rural. Adding that the issues have remained the same over several election cycles, Tomlinson said it was full time for them to be remedied.
“These are the issues of the community and they are fully aligned with my priorities for them as well. People need money in their pockets. The secure jobs they had six months ago do not exist in the same fashion. Access to the Internet is also something we want to make right in the constituency,” she said.
The problems affecting the coffee sector, the main economic earner in the farming-dependent area, are not lost on her.
The PNPYO president is also keen on finding a way to facilitate older residents passing on valuable skills they have garnered over the years to the youth.
“I believe I have a 100 per cent chance of victory,” she said confidently.
Tomlinson will feature in the first of three political debates for candidates in the general election.