“Honestly, on Monday morning I was telling somebody I knew that the race was tight,” said Sheldon Cunningham, 40, in an interview with Newsday. “I was thinking I would come close but I didn’t think I would actually win the seat. I told my team: whatever decision comes out we have done our best and it is all in God’s hand’s because he has a plan. Whatever the plan is let us respect it. And then to see the result!”
Cunningham works in healthcare but is involved in a wide range of social programmes from health promotion (he says his main field is in training for the administering of HIV/AIDS tests) to couselling alcohol and substance abusers.
He also has worked as a social worker and is involved as an advisor to several organisations such as the Runnymeade Credit Union and village councils. He has served as an advisor to the Tobago Youth Council.
Cunningham says he plans to focus on youth issues during his tenure and the mandate of the PNM, the party he is a member of.
“The issues affecting youth today are: jobs and unemployment, single parent family relationships; and the challenge of having a sustainable relationships. And a key issue is also HIV/AIDS,” he said. His interest in youth probably stems from his own painful past.
One morning, when he was 17, he woke up to find that his father, Albert Cunningham, had disappeared from the family home.
“My father disappeared on June 22, 1990,” he said. “I remember going to bed and I told him I will lock up. And then in the morning my mom — Ivy Angela Cunningham — called me because she was calling him and could not find him. He also used to hunt, but he would normally say when he was going out. We waiting there in the house for a long time. Then, we went to the police station. They got dogs to search. Army men also combed the area.”
He never found his father.
“I think my father would have been really elated with my victory,” he said. “Dad would have been 79 this year. We were very close.” Cunningham is one of six siblings, including: Cecil, Alvin, Sydney, Andy, Liz.
He is married to Roxanne Stuart Cunningham and is a father of two children: daughter Skhanique, 16, and son Shellon, seven.
The new assemblyman was yesterday relishing his victory, reporting for duty at the constituency office at Northside Road, Mason Hall.
A stream of supporters trickled in to see him. His voice-mail inbox was full.
“People have been calling non-stop,” he said. Asked to pinpoint what he thought went wrong with the TOP’s campaign, he said, “I think having the presence of the Prime Minister so up front made a difference. I am not saying she should not have been here in Tobago. But sometimes you kill something. That killed it. The people of Tobago have made a clear statement that no matter how much money is spent on a campaign they won’t necessarily support. Don’t vote for today, vote for tomorrow.”
He said he would be open to receiving members of all political parties at his offices at Mason Hall and called for a period of healing.
“I will see people regardless of your political persuasion,” he said. “You should think of a country and not a political party. This election has clearly divided us too much. As we are a people who care about defending Tobago, how can we do that if we are divided? We have to be strong and united. The vicitimisation will have to stop. We will be moving all the PNM slogans around the office in order to have an open office for people to come because the thing about it is I want dialogue with the people.”
With all political campaigning having come to an end, the mood in Tobago yesterday was serene.
PNM party members — recovering from celebrations which went into the early morning and gridlocked the streets of Scarborough — recovered under a fine blue sky, some lounging in front of Cunningham’s office.