The five candidates for Undergraduate Council president start off the campaign agreeing on at least one thing: this might be the most interesting race since the council moved to popular elections five years ago.
Virtually everyone who could be expected to run for the presidency is running this year. The leaders of two council committees and two of the council's executives are on the ticket. And two brand new council members, Matthew Zanotelli '02 and B.J. Averell '02, have made the race even more interesting.
Many council members agree that Stephen N. Smith '02 is the man to beat this year.
An ally of current council president Fentrice D. Driskell '01 and an active member of Harvard Students Against Sweatshops and the Progressive Student Labor Movement, Smith also heads the Campus Life Committee, which sponsors events like the Harvard-Yale Battle of the Bands and Springfest.
However, some council members say he is too closely tied to the current administration of Fentrice D. Driskell '01.
Council member Todd E. Plants '01, who made an unsuccessful run for the presidency last year and shares Smith's liberal politics, says Smith may be too close to Driskell to win this year. Driskell has been criticized throughout her tenure for a failure to accomplish much of her original platform. In fact, some of the most significant council innovations of the last year, such as the popular online book selling program called UC Books, have come from the Student Affairs Committee--not Driskell.
"I look [at Driskell and Smith] and I see leadership that hasn't really accomplished a lot," Plants says.
Smith headed up last year's Springfest, which came in $4,000 over budget and did not have as many rides and attractions as in years past.
Driskell told The Crimson in September that she would not officially endorse a candidate out of fairness to the other candidates, but many members say she has not made any secret of her view of Smith as her heir-apparent.
Smith's main opponent, Paul A. Gusmorino '02, heads up the Student Affairs Committee, which started UC Books and has been responsible for many of the student-services initiatives the council has undertaken. He is responsible for many of the council's tangible achievements this year, including UC Books, student-faculty dining and hot soup at fly-by.
Gusmorino and his vice presidential candidate Sujean S. Lee '02 also have one particular advantage: Lee is the only female candidate running this year. And in the five years that the council has held popular elections for its leaders, every winning ticket has had a female member.
The Funny Man
Famous for his drama skills, both in the theater and out, Averell is this year's wildcard candidate. No one really knows how seriously the student body will take his candidacy.
He gained campus-wide notoriety last year after being arrested for sneaking onto a plane home for Thanksgiving and is widely recognized as member of On Thin Ice.
His campaign, if run correctly, could upset the council insiders, finishing a strong second or even winning the race. While each election sees at least one "joke" candidate, Averell's campus prominence affords him an uncommon strength in the race.
While Averell declined to comment about his platform because of election rules that prohibit campaigning before the campaign officially starts, observers agree his platform will make or break his bid.
Regardless, he might at least open up the election to council outsiders, bringing more attention to the race.
"He'll bring in a lot of people who wouldn't probably vote," Plants predicts.
The announcement that Zanotelli would also run for president took many council members by surprise. A first-year council member, he chose as a running mate council secretary John Bash '03, who just transferred to Harvard from Columbia this fall. Bash has spoken loudly in favor of more openness in the council's activities, designing weekly posters describing the council's activities.
While the council's general elections in the fall are typically won with the votes of friends and blockmates, the presidential election relies on the endorsement of clubs and student groups. Justin A. Barkley '02, who is currently the council treasurer, believes this may work in his favor.
At a Harvard Republican Club meeting last spring where U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) spoke, Barkley pitched the idea of a club-wide push to put a conservative at the head of the council.
Although the club is still unsure which candidate it will endorse, a strong effort on their part might put Barkley's name in serious contention.