Running in a 'Popular' Election
The Undergraduate Council declared this year that its new campus-wide elections would help to stimulate interest in campus politics.
But as the election heads into the final stretch, the candidates say they are fighting for name recognition, rather than outlining substantive issues.
And many students say they do not know what the candidates stand for, or, even in many cases, who the candidates are.
"This election has been popular in almost every sense of the word," says Edward B. Smith III '97, one of the presidential candidates.
"The candidates are fighting to get their names on the board," says candidate Alissa S. Brotman '97.
Brotman says all the candidates are trying to generate enthusiasm with their posters so that students will read about them in campus papers.
Meanwhile, another obstacle to achieving name recognition was implemented yesterday, as the Science Center banned candidates from writing their names on the lecture hall chalkboards.
"Taking away the chalk further limits getting my name out," says Smith, who says he woke up at 7:45 each morning to draw a caricature of himself on the boards.
"My general feeling is that people don't know what the issues are," Brotman says.
"The candidates are working hard."
"There is so much bickering over whether people are taking other people's posters," Brotman adds. "This is exactly what is wrong with the U.C."
Smith says his campaign has to date not been based on the issues because "people would not even remember [them]."
And one student who tried to advertise his campaign in front of voters ran into a good deal of trouble. Benjamin R. Kaplan '99-'98, who is a Crimson editor, asked Professor of Chemistry Eric N. Jacobsen for "60 to 90" seconds to advance his cause at the beginning of Chemistry 20: "Organic Chemistry," the professor said.
Jacobsen says Kaplan spoke for several minutes and was "very annoying."
"It go to the point where we had to boot him off the stage," he says.
Students in the room yelled, "class, class," and "time" as Kaplan spoke, according to those attending the lecture.
Kaplan calls his chemistry talk a "humbling experience" but refuses to discuss it further. He notes only that a similar presentation he gave in Biological Sciences 1: "Introductory Genetics: Molecular and Developmental Biology" went much better.
"He was very good," says James J. Zenyoh '99, who was present at Kaplan's BS 1 talk.
Another student complains about an unidentified candidate, who reportedly rode through the Quad in a shopping cart, shouting out political slogans through a megaphone.
Joseph G. Cleemann '98, a presidential hopeful, says the campaign is not about issues and that it is next to impossible to make it so.
And Smith says he is moving to an issue-based campaign, releasing a "manifesto" today on a Web page and a shortened version on posters.
"If I do not win the election, the election, was not about issues, because I have the best issues," says Smith, who has been criticized for running a campaign based on pictures of his face.
The candidates' assessment of a non-issue campaign seems to be on target.
Most students interviewed yesterday in Loker Commons said they were not following the campaign closely enough to understand the issues.
And indeed, there are only a handful of students who say they have been positively swayed by campaign efforts.
Nikhil Chandra '99 says the joint campaign of presidential candidate Robert M. Hyman '98-'97 and vice presidential candidate Lamelle D. Rawlins '99 has impressed him because of its concern for minority issues.
Most other students interviewed say they aren't paying much attention to the race.
"I am not really following the campaign. It seems that some [candidates] are postering more than others," says K.T. Lawson '97.
The Dunster resident says she has not decided yet for whom she will cast her vote in the campus-wide elections, but adds that she does not plan to make "an active attempt" to find out more information about the candidates.
"I just don't have the time or interest," she explains.
This sort of apathy was common among students interviewed yesterday. Many students expressed little interest in the campaign or the workings of the council itself.
"I am not very interested in campus politics," says Vicky L. Obst '99, who notes, however, that she has read profiles of the candidates in The Crimson.
"I read about it," says Elizabeth L. Amberg '97. "But I'm one of the more apathetic people; it's not important to me."
"I guess I haven't heard much about it beyond the names of the candidates," Deepu Nair '98-'97 says. "They can yell their names out as much as they want, but I still don't know what they stand for."
Benjamin W. Collins '99 voices the opinion of many of those interviewed: "I'm aware of it, but I'm just totally indifferent."
But many students say they prefer having a College-wide election of the council officers over the original process, in which only council members selected the officers.
"It's a definite improvement over the previous years," Collins says.
Some say, however, that the campaign has not helped to acquaint them with substantive issues.
"I frankly don't even know what the U.C. does," says Edgar Saldivar '99. "I think it's all just name recognition."
In fact, most students interviewed yesterday say they are planning to vote during the elections, which run Monday through Friday of next week.
Others say their lack of interest in the campaign will keep them from the electronic polls next week.
"Very in your face, I can't distinguish between the candidates, but I don't really care, not going to vote," says Gonzalo Martinez '98.
But some students still call for candidates to outline their positions more clearly in public.
"They need to inspire the student body with hope," says Martinez. "They need to do stuff that students actually care about."
"What we really need is some sort of brief about them," he says. "They need to bring more awareness to the U.C. They need to tell us what they are trying to do."