March 3, 2006

S.A. Hopefuls Debate Issues, Argue Stances

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The discussion was heated, contentious and often personal as the Clean Slate and University Voice tickets clashed in front of an audience of no more than 15 close associates, supporters and press in the Straight yesterday evening.

Clean Slate (C.S.) presents itself as an anti-establishment ticket looking to clean up what it claims is a culture of corruption and cronyism in the Student Assembly. University Voice (U.V.), half of which is made up of incumbents running for reelection, portrays itself as a slate of experienced, well-qualified candidates. The candidates from each ticket sat facing each other along two long tables in the Straight Memorial Room. Among them was Andrew Wang ’08, the lone independent in attendance.

The S.A. candidate forum was uneventful until outgoing student trustee Josh Katcher ’06, who moderated the event, asked C.S. candidates, “What exactly are you guys trying to clean?” When told that they had a minute to answer the question, Ahmed Salem ’08, running for reelection to the international seat, said, “We need like an hour!”

“Most of these people that have been on the S.A. haven’t done anything with that time,” said Mazdak Asgary ’08, at-large candidate and nominal leader of the Clean Slate ticket.

“The people on your ticket don’t have the experience,” at-large candidate Kwame Thomison ’08 said.

Katcher wanted to continue back and forth on the topic, but U.V. candidates wanted to move on to other, platform related questions.

Katcher was unswayed.

“This is it!” he said. “This is why you guys are running against each other.”

C.S. candidates raised the specter of corruption, and cited last year’s elections – in which they say most seats were won unopposed because elections were not publicized – as evidence.

“The term Clean Slate … doesn’t necessarily mean that what was on [the slate] before was dirt. It’s information, and it’s words, that may not be useful any more and it’s worthwhile to erase them,” said Debbie Vishnevsky ’08, who is running for the Human Ecology seat.

“This is not some incumbent ticket of cronies that is running for the S.A.,” retorted Calvin Selth ’07, running for re-election to the LGBTQ seat.

Selth said the S.A. was not responsible for the failure to publicize last year’s elections.

“The staff of the Office of Assemblies was incompetent,” he said.

After three minutes, Katcher stopped the back and forth and had each ticket write down anonymous questions for him to ask the other ticket. The ticket that had asked the question would then respond in a debate format.

The sniping continued, with a number of U.V.’s questions posed to specific C.S. candidates who were not in attendance because they were taking exams.

Shivaun Deena ’08, running on C.S. for the minority seat, tried to answer a question U.V. asked of C.S.’s LGBTQ candidate, Jalon Gordon ’09, who was not present due to an exam. Selth pounced on Deena when she accidentally Said “LGBQT” instead of “LGBTQ.” “TQ – its TQ, not QT,” he said, interrupting her response.

After Selth had responded to what she had said, Shivaun wanted a further opportunity for a rebuttal.

“Just 10 seconds,” she said. “That’s not the format right now,” Katcher Said, and moved on to another question.

U.V. asked a number of questions that seemed calculated to trick C.S. candidates into slipping up.

One question asked about endorsements of C.S. by The Cornell Review and the College Republicans.

Mark Coombs ’08, a self-described “Blue Dog Democrat” from the town of Lone Star, Tex., who is active in the Cornell Democrats, took the question.

“If the Cornell Republicans are willing to put their faith in a Blue Dog Texas Democrat to represent them, by godly I will accept that.”

The other question that seemed calculated to trip up C.S. candidates was, “Do you support due process rights for the alleged perpetrator of the recent stabbing incident?”

C.S. candidates seemed baffled by the question. “I support the United States Constitution,” Salem said.

“Yeah, it’s the Constitution,” Coombs said with a chuckle of disbelief.

The trick questions were not the sole province of the U.V. candidates, and at one point, Katcher was compelled to say, “If the question is specifically directed at someone to try to prove that they may not know something, that’s ridiculous.”

When Katcher read a question asking U.V. what specific proposals they had in mind to fulfill their campaign promise of fixing parking problems, Salem blurted out, “Splitting trees!” to chuckles on the C.S. side of the table, alluding to last year’s controversy about paving the Redbud Woods to build a parking lot.

Despite the meager attendance, leaders of both tickets afterwards said that the debate had been successful in airing the differences between the two slates. They also stuck to their talking points.

“We pressed each other on the issues,” Asgary said. “[U.V.] relied a lot on their past record, which was pretty lackluster, instead of talking about what they’re going to do in the future.”

“The only thing that … I just didn’t like how some of it got personal, and a lot of that was directed towards me,” Asgary said.

“There’s a lot of cronyism that goes on in the assembly, there’s a lot of suppression of student interests towards furthering personal egos.”

Asgary said he believes that the S.A. needs to be an advocate of student interests rather than a “clone of the administration,” and that S.A. members must “be accountable to what they’ve promised, and be an open forum.”

There is no love lost between Asgary and Sarah Boxer ’07, who heads the U.V. ticket. While speaking to a reporter after the debate, Boxer grew nervous when Asgary came within earshot.

“He just creeps up on you – so sketchy!” she said.

“I think that everyone [on the U.V. ticket] who was here today sounded fantastic and is extremely qualified to serve on the S.A. next year,” Boxer said.

Boxer blasted C.S. charges of corruption, cronyism, and ineffectualness.

“All 23 people on the S.A., minus members of their ticket, were all working extremely hard on a wide range of student issues,” she said.

“By throwing around words like corruption and not having anything to support it with, they are the ones giving the S.A. a bad name,” Boxer said.

“Bring it on.”

Archived article by David Wittenberg
Sun Staff Writer