ST. CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- The match-up date was Monday, September 20, 2010. And the arena was the Earl B. Ottley Legislative Hall in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, capital of the United States Virgin Islands. And presented there, as one of the very first items of business at the opening of the very last Legislative Session prior to the November 2, 2010 General Election, was a motion to override the August 20, 2010 gubernatorial veto of a most intriguing legislative measure: The use of $50,000 dollars of U.S. Virgin Islands taxpayers' money to sponsor the mid-level soccer team of Montescudaio, Italy, an idyllic 12th-century Tuscan village famous for its wines — and located 4,739 miles away.
At approximately 11:45 a.m., Wayne A.G. James, the senator leading the override effort, rose his slender, 6'4" frame amidst his 15 senatorial colleagues, and slowly and deliberately made the much-anticipated — and much-talked-about — Motion for Override. For a moment, it was as if the room had fallen silent. Then came the roll call. And in less than one seemingly very long minute, it was established: Senator Wayne A.G. James had won the senator-versus-governor showdown — with the exact two-thirds majority vote needed to override the governor's veto.
The connection between Montescudaio, Italy and the United States Virgin Islands, located in the middle of the Caribbean archipelago and world renowned for its rum production, was conceived when Italian architect Alessandro Sonetti, a mutual friend of Senator James and Montescudaio mayor Aurelio Pellegrini, suggested that the Tuscan village and the three historic towns of the Virgin Islands, namely Christiansted, Frederiksted, and Charlotte Amalie, form a twin-city alliance. Both leaders immediately saw the potential for friendship, trade, and tourism; and in December of 2009, the Virgin Islands Legislature passed Resolution No. 1744 establishing the twin-city relationship. Then on July 4, 2010, Montescudaio, led by Mayor Pellegrini, completed the Italian equivalent at a formal ceremony attended by James, a delegation of 13 from the Virgin Islands, and almost all of Montescudaio's 2000 residents in Montescudaio's medieval town square.
"Overrides are rarely easy, and I knew this one would be particularly difficult — especially just before an election — but I always knew I could get it with some island-style diplomacy and the cooperation of my colleagues," James said. "In life, and perhaps more so in political life, one must take risks. And one must always believe in that which is good."
And risks James took: Despite the likelihood of a gubernatorial veto, almost immediately after the Virgin Islands Legislature, on July 27, 2010, approved his amendment to fund the Italian soccer team, the senator announced the legislature's action in an August 3, 2010 press release and began a joint public relations/override campaign, explaining the "out-the-box" concept of his sports-tourism initiative to his senatorial colleagues, the Virgin Islands taxpayers, and the international media.
"Soccer is the world's biggest and most popular sport, and its capacity to unite peoples is amazing," James said. "And because of my business background, I could immediately see how the world would take particular notice of a mid-level Italian soccer team being supported by a Caribbean tourist destination in exchange for the team using the power of soccer in Italy to entice Italians to warm, sandy beaches thousands of miles across the planet."
And apparently James was right because since August 3, 2010, according to data compiled by PR Newswire, the U.S.-based news service, over 140 million viewers, listeners, and readers — from passersby at Times Square, New York to listeners on the Vatican's FM station to Yahoo Finance, with its 62 million daily visitors — have had access to information about James' Virgin Islands-Montescudaio sports-tourism collaboration.
"The Virgin Islands Government hasn't sent one penny of that $50,000 dollars to Italy yet, but the islands have already received publicity worth millions of dollars," James said. "And that publicity is going to translate into visitors to our shores, who will inject new money into our island-economy. That's what I call getting a 'bang for the buck.' "
Likewise, back in Italy, especially in Tuscany, James, assisted by Pellegrini, has launched an on-the-ground campaign. Since November of 2009, for example, when the twin-city idea was first made public, there have been scores of newspaper, magazine, and electronic media presentations about the international friendship and the soccer sponsorship.
Italy is the fourth-largest source of tourists to the United States Virgin Islands, after the U.S., Canada, and Denmark. And of all visitors to the islands, Italians, per capita, spend the most money. They stay in the territory's best hotels, eat in its best restaurants, and stay, on average, 10-12 days in the islands.
"The impetus for the sports-marketing initiative is to increase summer tourism," James said. "The fall-winter months, from October to March, comprise our high season. But we need more tourists in the summer. And since Italians get the whole month of August off, they are perfect candidates for summer tourism. We presently receive approximately 3,500 visitors per year from Italy. It would be great to see that number increase by 1,000 as a direct result of this project."
In the meantime, since the official opening of the Italian soccer season on September 5, US Montescudaio has won every game except one, and James and Pellegrini continue to win the approval for their sports-tourism idea from their once-confounded constituents.
"What Pellegrini and I did is a unique and good thing. And where there is good, there is God. You never lose with God," James concluded.
SOURCE Office of Senator Wayne A.G. James