Teo P. Nicolais ’06 and Samita A. Mannapperuma ’06 argue that their candidacy in the Undergraduate Council election is distinctive. They’re the only team with a female member. They’re the only ticket with a candidate from the Quad.
And they’re also the only presidential and vice-presidential candidates who happen to be dating.
“Whenever we tell people that we’re going out, the reaction is that we’re Harvard’s power couple,” says Nicolais.
The pair is now in the midst of a closely contested battle for control over the future of the council.
But while the two acknowledge that their relationship has raised eyebrows, they emphasize that they bring different perspectives.
“We’ve both had a long-standing independent record of achieving results,” Nicolais says.
These strengths will prove crucial to defining their ticket in a race that pits them against a council member in the role traditionally leading to the presidency and a popular outsider claiming a fresh perspective.
A GOLDILOCKS CAMPAIGN
While Glazer and Capp emphasize their council experience, and Moore emphasizes his lack of it, Nicolais and Mannapperuma blaze a middle ground.
“One [ticket] is radical change, but doesn’t have any kind of experience,” says Nicolais of Tracy “Ty” Moore II ’06 and Ian W. Nichols ’06. “The other is...no change that we can see, in terms of how they approach things,” he says of Matt P. Glazer ’06 and Clay T. Capp ’06.
Nicolais called his and Mannapperuma’s candidacy one of “informed change,” and referred to theirs as the Goldilocks campaign.
“One is too hot, one is too cold, and we capture the middle,” he says.
The two hope to work through the council to remedy what they see as a disconnect between the student body and their elected representatives.
“If the UC is going to be a student government and not just a glorified student group, we need to be reaching out,” Nicolais says.
In addition to the issues on which all candidates agree—like universal keycard access and the renovation of Loker Commons—the pair support more money for House Committees (Nicolais serves on Lowell HoCo, and Mannapperuma on Currier’s) and for initiatives like the Council Party Fund, which give students more control.
The pair cited this year’s Harvard-Yale tailgate as a successful example of the type of collaboration they hope to encourage between the council and student groups.
“It wasn’t an event that happened to students,” Nicolais says. “It was something they made happen.”
Added Mannapperuma: “Sigma Chi knows how to throw a tailgate better than we ever will; we just let them do it. That’s really our idea about the philosophical change.”
While Nicolais and Mannapperuma have drawn comparisons to Bill and Hillary Clinton and been labeled a “power couple,” they insist that they don’t consider themselves career politicians.
"We’re not politicos who from freshman year decided to run for vice president and president and have been strategizing,” Nicolais says.
The two point to the fact that “almost none” of their campaign staff are council members. Mannapperuma, who is in her first year on the council, has more experience as a student leader, and cites her involvement as special events chair of Harvard’s Women in Business club.
“She’s responsible for organizing pretty much everything we do. She’s just one of those ‘on point’ people you can count on for anything,” Erin T. Probst ’06, chair of the club’s administrative committee, writes in an e-mail.
Mannapperuma, who is also a Crimson editor, says she was approached by other presidential candidates to run with them, but decided to run with Nicolais because the contrast in their experiences strengthens their appeal.
Though Mannapperuma is new to the council, Nicolais is an insider: in his second year on the council, he has chaired one of the most influential bodies, the Finance Committee (FiCom). During his tenure, he presided over a significant overhaul of the grants process, reducing the application time for grants from six weeks to eight days.
Fellow FiCom members say that Nicolais’ tenure as chair has been one marked by much-needed reform.
“Teo has dedicated his Harvard college experience to FiCom, and enhancing the lives of Harvard students on campus,” writes committee member Jasmine X. Zhang ’06, who has not endorsed any candidate, in an e-mail. Nicolais’ ticket has won the endorsement of the Harvard Republican Club.
Several FiCom members, however, have endorsed other candidates. FiCom member S. Faraz N. Munaim ’06 says Nicolais is a “strong leader,” but is endorsing Glazer.
And council members expressed conflicting opinions of the relevance of the couple’s relationship. Some believe Nicolais has granted Mannapperuma more authority than her tenure warrants, while others say the fact that they are dating is not an issue.
“Because they’re in a relationship, even though Samita is lower down in the FiCom hierarchy, she’s treated as vice-chair,” says one council member who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But others disagree.
“It’s never been a problem, and most people didn’t even know they were going out,” says FiCom member Adeyemi K. Owolewa ’07.
Nicolais dismisses concerns about what happens if Bill and Hillary break up.
“Short of Samita killing me and becoming UC president, or us having joint custody of the council?” Nicolais says, laughing. “Here’s the thing: we are absolutely committed to our vision, and it is too important for us to let anything get in the way.”
THE KEY TO THE TICKET
While they have only been dating a few months, Nicolais and Mannapperuma met as high school juniors.
As a senior in high school, Nicolais served as international president of Key Club, a 230,000 member high school service organization and the largest in the world.
“Everyone in the world knew who he was,” she says.
Mannapperuma, who was born in Sri Lanka, also participated in community service in her home state of California. But her passion for business brought her 3,000 miles away.
An economics concentrator, she hopes to one day be the president of a professional football team. She says that her favorite College class dealt with the business of sports.
“It was a dream come true,” she says of the class. “We were able to just study things like the salary cap and collective bargaining.”
And what about the seemingly unpronounceable last name?
“It’s actually really phonetic, but people look at it and get scared to pronounce it,” she says. “It’s all the double letters that scare people away.”
A DIVERSE TICKET
The candidates recognize that the council is not a microcosm of the student population. There is only one woman on the eight-member executive board.
“The UC is a male-dominated organization, there’s no doubt about it,” Nicolais says. “We’re trying to tell students that we represent them with seven white guys.”
The candidates hope that their unique position to represent their constituents will afford them an advantage over their opponents.
“Half the people who go to this school are women,” says Mannapperuma. And then, smiling, “Not to say that Teo doesn’t know about girls.”