Man about town: Wayne Furbert, meeting and greeting people just off Court Street yesterday. Photo by Leah Furbert
Man about town: Wayne Furbert, meeting and greeting people just off Court Street yesterday. Photo by Leah Furbert
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Bill Clinton had his sax and Wayne Furbert has his voice. The 49-year-old father of two has one major passion, outside of politics and his family — singing.

“I love singing,” he says, “I sing everywhere: weddings, funerals, churches, walking down the street. I’m a solo man. I like ballads, Luther Vandross, Lionel Ritchie. I’m a gospel singer mainly. Any song that touches the inner person. I love jazz, a little bit of classic reggae —none of this ‘I shot the sheriff.’

He’s married to Ulene and their 21-year-old daughter Jasmine, a part-time model and dancer in Bermuda, who is studying along with her twin brother J’von at university in Toronto. “She’s the next politician in the family,” Mr. Furbert says.

His own political inspiration came from his great-grandfather Ernest Furbert who was the first black MP for Hamilton Parish. “We used to talk a lot around the table about politics, particularly with my great-grandfather. I’ve been in politics since I was 14. I was the only child that picked up the baton.”

Mr Furbert attended Frances Patton School, the Technical Institute and the Sixth Form Centre before going on to earn degrees in maths, physics and education during four years at the University of Toledo. He worked for Price Waterhouse in Bermuda and later completed his training as a certified public accountant, before branching out as an entrepreneur. His business interests include Café Paradiso on Reid Street and Genesis Accounting and Management Services.

Among his heroes are Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan. He admires former premier Sir John Swan and other local heroes include Quinton Edness and Jim Woolridge. “I long to be able to give a speech that people are mesmerized by,” he says in reference to his oft-touted struggle with public speaking.

He confesses a weakness for action movies and a taste for fried chicken and macaroni and cheese with greens. But all those interests and hobbies play second fiddle, he says, to his passion for Bermuda.

People seem fed up with politics. What can you do to change things?

Political reform. We need parties working with each other not just in opposition. More bi-partisan committees. I want to try and find a way for politicians to have an open say. The Westminster system serves us well, and I am not advocating changing that.

But we are too small for some of the things in the Westminster system. MPs need more freedom from the party whip.

…There is dissatisfaction with both political parties and the state of politics. Most people know me as an honest guy who really cares about Bermuda.

What about Khalid Wasi’s plans for a new party, the All Bermuda Congress. Is it a threat to the UBP?

Khalid is a good friend of mine and I respect his views… We’ll see how we can work together.

Some of his ideas are similar to the things I believe in – diversity, breaking down racial barriers. Having said that I don’t need to get on the dance floor with any political party.

What differentiates you from Grant Gibbons?

My style is totally different. I like to walk the streets and talk to people. I love to be in touch with people and they respond to that. If you never visit your girlfriend you’re never going to marry her.

You can talk about your visions and your plans but you’ve got to meet up with her once in a while.

Jim Woolridge had a similar style, as did Jack Sharp and Quinton Edness. It’s not a political thing, for me. That’s who I am. My wife would love me to talk less but that’s not me. You can sense a person when they are not real. The majority of people who know me, know that I’m real.

People know you as a conservative, religious man. How will that affect your leadership?

I have my beliefs as an individual but in the UBP we have collective responsibility. We will argue certain points within the room but we come up with a consensus for the way forward.

I do not wear my religion on my sleeve, I wear it in my heart. I don’t put down anyone for what they believe in or what they do.

It’s an issue that has come up for the PLP with the gaming machines ban. Where do you stand on that?

There are certain Christians who are strongly against gaming. I’m not strongly for or against it. I’ve put a few coins in a machine from time to time.

I’m concerned that it has its disadvantages when people waste the money they need to feed their families. I also love entertainment… People have their own principles. Let no man judge you. If a decision has to be made we will try to reflect the morals of the community at that time.

What about a casino on the waterfront?

We will have discussions with the church community and others within the community, to get their responses and we will govern accordingly. We will decide by consensus. It’s possibly an issue for a referendum.

If you’d mentioned gaming in Bermuda 20 years ago, your head would have come off your shoulders.

Times have changed and people tend to take a much more conciliatory stance.

I was in the Bahamas in November and they have just introduced another large hotel with gaming. I spoke to one Christian brother down there and he said: “this is what the community wanted”. We’ll judge what the community wants.

If a referendum were held tomorrow on independence, how would you vote?

Right now I would vote no to independence. That might change if the U.K. became more intrusive in its policy towards Bermuda, if there was more interference.

Right now the country is satisfied with the status quo. If the people want independence, we will feel it.

It’s being driven by the PLP government for reasons of self-ego. The people have to decide on the big issues, not just the Premier and his party.

Do you stick by Grant Gibbons’ call for a referendum on independence by March.

That’s something that we decided as a party. I still support the notion the Premier should have a referendum as soon as possible.

You’ve talked about taking the racial divisions out of politics. How will you get to grips with the race problem?

It’s our biggest problem. We will destroy ourselves if we do not get a handle on this. Younger people have already become much more racially integrated. What we must do now is lay the foundations so that when they reach old age they have no reason to say one group is better off than them.

We have to allow Bermudians the opportunity to reach their full potential, whether its as an entrepreneur, or working in their job. If I’m happy to be a waiter, then I’m happy. If I’m happy to be a street sweeper, that’s where I want to be. I’ve reached my potential.

But everyone who wants to be able to reach management positions should have the opportunity to do so. People should be judged on merit and character not the colour of their skin.

People rose to the top in the early years of Bermuda based on the colour of their skin.

If that’s not seen to be amended (and to a large degree in Bermuda is starting to move that way) people will have no other choice but to look to the past.

Seventy-five per cent of the population is black. That should [translate to] a large number of black people in managerial positions. Businesses have to be more conscious that Bermudians are hired first. If Bermudians are not qualified to do the job, we have to make sure they have the opportunities to train.

By improving economic opportunity and job opportunities we will see the race issue disappear for our children’s children.

Are you talking about incentives for companies to hire Bermudians over foreigners?

Companies should be able to bring in as many foreigners as they want provided Bermudians get where they want to go.

Bermudians are not replacing themselves. There are not enough Bermudians to fill all the jobs on this island.

Some Bermudians feel they are not able to achieve what they set out to achieve. I’m going to make sure that the checks and balances are there, so that they have the opportunity to do that.

For example there aren’t enough Bermudian accountants. So if you see someone come from overseas to fill an accountancy post, then that’s not a problem.

You just hope that if there was a Bermudian qualified they would be given the opportunity to work alongside this person they bring in, to get the experience they need. We’ve got to find a way to make that experience available. Bermudians need to have the opportunity to get the jobs they want.

Otherwise you are going to have a dissatisfied group of people. You can’t have that on 21 square miles of island.

How will you appeal to voters of both races?

I will not be happy and the country will not have served itself if the UBP continues to get 92 per cent of the white vote, nor should the country be happy if the PLP continues to get 75 per cent of the black vote. We need to find a way that people vote on either side of the spectrum based on issues and platforms. But what drives a lot of whites away from the PLP is their racial remarks.

… It’s in the country’s best interests to find a way to remove hatred between racial groups and political parties.

We can talk about a better Bermuda, but it’s about living it, not talking it. I don’t want all white votes. I want 51 per cent of the white vote and 51 per cent of the black vote

I’m trying to appeal to people’s common sense.

Most people are interested in the same things —opportunity for all, peace and harmony, a safe community, making sure our children are educated, making sure we’re housed properly. These are fundamental things.

It’s not about who’s white and who is black, it’s about who is going to get us there. I could be PLP tomorrow if I thought they had a plan to get us there. Don’t vote on colour. Ask who has the best housing plan, who has the best education plan, who has the best ideas for fighting crime?

What practical steps will you take on housing?

People know we have a solid housing plan —we’ve already talked about the shared equity concept to allow more people to own their own home. We will work with local realtors and developers to make the housing product a little cheaper for Bermudians. We have talked about building more homes for rent. The first thing is to build some homes, very quickly. It can be done. We’ve got to stop talking about it and do it.

How will you improve education?

Neville Darrell has set out our plan for education. Just because the leader has changed it does not mean all of our policies have changed. We understand that Bermuda needs a global education system. We need to make sure we have the best teachers. It’s not about getting a bigger school building.

You’re not noted as the world’s best public speaker, is that something you are working on?

My singing is better than my speaking. English was never my best subject, maths was always my strongest point.

We are working on some of these things. Will I perfect it? Probably not. There are many articulate people in the world and a lot of people think they talk a bunch of crap. I may not have the gift of the gab as some people do, but it’s better to have a sincere person who speaks from the heart.