V.I. official attends holiday reception at White House

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ST. CROIX - Cecil Benjamin initially thought it was a hoax when he received an email earlier this month inviting him to the White House.

"I was going to delete it. It looked like phony stuff," said Benjamin, who is the state chairman for the V.I. Democratic Party. "I said, 'What kind of stupidness is this?'"

Instead, though, he paused and then opted to open the email.

"I say, 'Hey, this is for real,'" Benjamin said.

As it turns out, the email actually was an invitation from the White House to a holiday reception with President and Mrs. Obama. It was followed by an invitation through the U.S. mail.

Once he realized that it was for real, Benjamin said he promptly responded and accepted.

He was invited because he is on the executive committee of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, a position he has held since August, Benjamin said.

"I think it's an unusual and significant privilege and also a signal honor to me and Virgin Islanders," he said. He checked and found that all members of the executive committee had been invited.

Benjamin said he has been to the White House twice before, when Bill Clinton was in office, but this was the first time he had been invited during the holiday season.

He had plans to put forward the territory's issues at any opportunity he had on the trip, but it turned out that the reception on Dec. 12 was quite large, with hundreds of people and significant networking - but no politicking - going on, he said.

"It was just wonderful. Fantastic," he said. "There was no politicking, no governance, just extending the spirit of the season, the holiday spirit."

About 500 people attended the reception, from politicians and Democratic Party leaders to leaders from labor, academia, business and the religious community, according to Benjamin.

The best part for Benjamin was meeting a variety of different people and making connections, he said

"It was amazing to see a cross-section of so many elite people from across the country," he said.

Benjamin described the food, entertainment and hospitality at the reception as "superb" and said those attending took special tours of the White House, which is fully decorated for the holiday season now.

"I can't even begin to describe it. It's like a wonderland," he said. "It was quite different from what I am accustomed to seeing at Christmastime."

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