We’re with you: Paula Cox, left, has the support of her Cabinet colleagues, right, who were present yesterday when she announced her leadership bid. *Photos by Kageaki Smith

We’re with you: Paula Cox, left, has the support of her Cabinet colleagues, right, who were present yesterday when she announced her leadership bid. *Photos by Kageaki Smith

Paula Cox looks certain to be the next Premier of Bermuda after formally announcing her candidacy to succeed Dr. Ewart Brown.

Ms Cox confirmed the worst kept secret in politics at an event yesterday that more closely resembled a coronation than a campaign launch.

Flanked by virtually every member of Cabinet, the Finance Minister unveiled her ‘moving forward together’ platform in a lavish ceremony at the Arboretum.

As she exited the podium to the melodic tones of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t she lovely’ and the rapturous applause of her party colleagues, the leadership battle was already beginning to look like a done deal.

Deputy Premier Ms Cox says she is taking nothing for granted. But party sources have long suggested the top job is in the bag.

And a massive show of support from MPs, senators, PLP veterans, business and union chiefs yesterday underscored why.

More than 100 people gathered under three marquees for the announcement— a sharp contrast to rival Terry Lister’s launch in front of a handful of supporters at Alaska Hall last week.

Dale Butler confirmed to us on Wednesday that he will also challenge for the job, though he plans to do most of his campaigning by dealing directly with PLP delegates, who have the final say.

Premier Dr. Ewart Brown has not officially supported any of the contenders.

Asked for comment yesterday, he said: "I am extremely proud of our Party process which now has two declared candidates vying for the leadership.

“Minister Cox’ announcement is no surprise to those of us who have benefited from her talents and watched her dedication to the Progressive Labour Party and to Bermuda.”

Education Minister El James and Works and Engineering Minister Derrick Burgess, once touted as leadership contenders, were among a host of key party figures standing shoulder to shoulder with Ms Cox yesterday.

Ms Cox said she was grateful for the support and hoped to convince the party delegates that she could lead the PLP as “first among equals”.

She defended her record as Finance Minister, shrugging off concerns that ballooning national debt had dented her leadership credentials.

She said Bermuda was ready for a “new wave” of change and promised to return the PLP to the “dizzying heights of November ‘98”, when the party first came to power.

Party members praised Ms Cox’s “quiet strength” and backed her to show a more collective and unifying approach to leadership than Dr Brown.

Asked how she would differ from her predecessor, Ms Cox, said: “Each leader has their own style and way of doing things.

“For me, what the country needs is someone who is going to help heal some of the divisions and move Bermuda forward.

“We need to talk about hot issues without a lot of the drama.”

Race relations

Dr. Brown’s forthright approach to race relations has been one of the most controversial aspects of his tenure as leader.

Ms Cox says the problem of racial inequality — particularly the disparity in wages between blacks and whites — remains a significant issue.

“Race relations still has a way to go. I think we can turn the volume down and talk about it on an issues basis,” she said.

If, as expected, Ms Cox is confirmed as PLP leader in October, she would be unlikely to swiftly call a general election. She said the people had elected the Progressive Labour Party at the last election in December 2007 — not Dr. Brown specifically — and the new leader would not need a new mandate from the public to govern.

“They elected a PLP Government and that is what they have. If the PLP where to change its political colours that would be different.”

Ms Cox said she would seek to lead inclusively and would hold no grudges against those who did not support her campaign.

Asked about her now infamous statement, made in a Bermuda Sun op-ed column, that she was, as Finance Minister a “cog in the wheel” of Government’s economic policy, Ms Cox said she was referring to the team ethic of the PLP government.

But she accepted that as leader she would be ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the administration.

“I see it as first among equals. It is on my shoulders that the responsibility will rest but I will be consulted and supported by members of the team.”

Related story: Party figures back Paula Cox