Races for Council Offices Heating Up

Candidates for President, Vice President Face Media Panel

Seven men vying to control the Undergraduate Council engaged in a free-wheeling debate last night at the Kennedy School of Government.

Returning council members outnumbered newcomers six to one, and most used the occasion to boast of--and sometimes defend--their records.

About 50 people attended an hour-and-a-half debate last night among the council presidential and vice-presidential candidates, sponsored by the Harvard Political Union and The Crimson.

Four presidential candidates--Sam Ferrell '95, David L. Hanselman '94-'95, Joshua D. Liston '95 and Jason E. Schmitt '98--participated, as did three vice-presidential candidates--Randall A. Fine '96, Brandon C. Gregoire '95 and Jay I. Kim '95--and a panel of four questioners.

Many of the seven candidates said they wanted to talk about the issues and avoid making character assassinations.

But Schmitt, the only first-year in either race, said the "entire debate focused on the idea of scandal."

One council member in the audience said he was unsure whether any of the candidates who have previously served on the council can change it.

"Call me a cynic, but I'm not so sure that any of you are the people to be leading the council in a new direction," said David V. Bonfili '96. "It's kind of like the skipper of the Exxon Valdez standing before us and saying that he's the environment's last best hope."

Each candidate delivered a one- minute opening statement.

"People know me on campus as a U.C. insider, yet I am full of integrity," said Gregoire, last year's council secretary. "I have been involved in no council scandal."

Kim, head of last year's finance committee, said he would stand firm in his convictions.

"I really think the essence of leadership is not just sticking out your thumb and seeing which way the popular wind is blowing," Kim said.

Liston, former council vice president, used his opening statement to defend himself.

"I am not embarrassed nor ashamed nor apologetic for anything anyone wants to accuse me of," he said.

Last spring, Liston allowed students to table in their own houses during a referendum, a direct violation of council bylaws. The referendum was therefore invalidated.

Liston was also censured for not recording 33 absences that could have led to the expulsion of five or six council members. The censure was overturned on a technicality. The council then tried but failed to impeach Liston.

In the middle of the debate, one questioner called Liston on his earlier statement.

"I'm just wondering, for someone who's proud of his record--are you sure you're the right person to lead this council away from scandal?" asked Crimson Editorial Chair Stephen E. Frank, one of the panelists.

"You're damn right I am," Liston replied.

He said that of the 33 absences, 10 were never turned into him. Of the remaining 23, he said, 17 were excused. He said that he allowed people to table in their own houses because he feared they wouldn't show up otherwise.

One of Liston's opponents said he didn't agree that Liston is guilt-free.

"Does the council need a president who was involved in scandals last year, or does it need a president with a no-scandal guarantee?" Hanselman asked.

Hanselman ran into his own problems when asked whether his role in counting votes last Sunday night presented a conflict of interest.

"I actually resent allusions to impropriety with my name on them," Hanselman said. "I was called upon to serve the council, and I came and served." Liston and Gregoire agreed that Hanselman did nothing wrong, but Ferrell called his actions "ridiculous."

Both Schmitt and Ferrell said they favor holding a referendum on a term-bill increase to better fund student organizations. Last semester, students voted down a term-bill hike.

Fine was slightly more cynical about the council's financial power.

"It doesn't matter what the students say. It doesn't matter what the U.C. says. It matters what the Faculty Council says" about issues such as the term bill hike, Fine said.

Last year, the council changed the percentage of council money that goes to student groups from 60 to 50 percent. Gregoire said he would like to see that percentage return to 60.

Gregoire, Hanselman, Kim and Liston said they oppose the popular election of council officials, Schmitt and Fine said they support it, and Ferrell said he supports it on the condition that a minimum percentage of students vote