Inside UC Politics: No Clear Path to the Top

Five presidential favorites quietly emerge, but no clear heir apparent to succeed Glazer

With presidential elections less than two months away, it’s poker faces all around for the Undergraduate Council’s (UC) most ambitious up-and-comers.

No obvious favorite has emerged to replace current President Matthew J. Glazer ’06 at the helm, and per UC tradition, it’s unlikely that anyone will make his or her intentions known until the last minute.

That said, UC tradition won’t count for much else in this election. The patterns of succession that guided the Council for the last five years or so have broken down, and with no clear heir to the throne in sight, a crop of relatively inexperienced young politicos are going to try to rewrite the rules.

In short, the big ticket is up for grabs, and for the first time in years, there are barely enough UC veterans in the junior class to fill up a ballot. Only seven members of the class of ’07 returned this year, and of them, Winthrop’s John F. Voith III ’07 is the only one who has been on the UC since his freshman year. As it stands, he’ll likely be joining four others in the race for the UC’s top two postions—even if none of them will admit it.

THE LIKELY FIVE

Until this year, a young sophomore intent on ruling the UC would have done well to land at the head of the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) first. Four of the last five UC presidents have used the position as a launch pad to the top, serving a full year as SAC chair before running for president, and as a result, the post has developed a reputation as a promising feeder job for those with tall dreams.

However, the rotation was knocked out of alignment when then-junior Aaron D. Chadbourne ’06 won the position last fall, beating out Tara Gadgil ’07 and John S. Haddock ’07.

Chadbourne unexpectedly decided not to rejoin the Council, putting the position back on the market at the committee elections last week. In a way, the vacancy was a great opportunity for Haddock and Gadgil, both of whom are likely to run for president in December. But the once-prestigious stepping stone would only be so useful, because whoever ended up winning would be able to claim just one semester as leader of SAC instead of two. In a presidential campaign, neither would be able to point to the year of experience—or the year’s worth of SAC reforms—that made the position such a pearl in the past.

But that didn’t stop the race from being a heated one. Gadgil snagged it after a week of intense campaigning, becoming the first female SAC chair since 1997 and throwing a wrench in any presidential plans Haddock had. Instead, Haddock will reprise the vice-chair position he held last year, and his chances for the presidency may suffer accordingly. Then again, if he achieves as much in the coming semester as he did in the last, he’ll have a daunting resume to run up the flagpole come December.

Indeed, Haddock is by no means out of the game, according to several UC members—including former Campus Life Committee (CLC) Chair Lauren P. S. Epstein ’07, a rumored presidential hopeful who lost her CLC reelection bid this year to Voith.

Voith served as vice-chair under Epstein last semester, when the committee weathered harsh criticism for a series of unsuccessful social events. Most detrimental of all were the Springfest Afterparty and the under-attended “Havana on the Harbor” Booze Cruise, both of which were rained out and effectively ruined.

Epstein took most of the heat, and although Voith should have shared more of the blame, his recent victory will probably allow him to coast through to the presidential election unharmed. In the end, what could have been a pair of crown jewels for Epstein quickly became political liabilities, potentially damaging her chances for this December’s presidential election.

Despite their various weaknesses, Epstein, Gadgil, Haddock, and Voith have emerged as the most likely candidates for this year’s presidential race. And though these four UC fixtures remain outwardly ambivalent about their intentions for running, a dearth of experienced potential candidates means that the field will be relatively limited this December no matter what.

Enter the token outsider: Connor C. Wilson ’07, who won the Adams House representative election through a spirited write-in campaign two weeks ago.

Wilson served as the campaign manager to last year’s unexpectedly successful outsider/insider ticket of Tracy “Ty” Moore ’06 and Ian W. Nichols ’06. When he won in Adams this year, UC insiders expected Wilson to try to take the Council by storm. So when he opted to be on the Finance Committee (FiCom)—which typically spits out fewer presidents and vice presidents than SAC or CLC—and then proceeded to bypass running for any leadership position, UC vets wondered if he had unwisely forfeited his advantage as an outsider. After all, if Wilson really does intend to run for president, he might have been better off not going after a small position within the UC, but rather running as a true outsider like Moore did in ’04. But Wilson says he wants to implement reforms as fast as possible, and FiCom’s the best place to do that, even as a mere commitee member.

Rumor has it that if he does make a play for the helm, Wilson would likely garner the support of First Senior Class Marshal Moore. However, he is not expected to win the support of current president Matthew J. Glazer ’06­. Not only was it Wilson’s job as Moore’s campaign manager to stop Glazer from becoming president last year, but Glazer would probably endorse an experienced insider ticket anyway. Glazer declined to comment on whom he would endorse, but stressed devotion to the UC as an important criterion for any would-be successor.

“Politics is part of the deal, but anyone interested in this job needs to make sure that they prioritize their Council work before their campaigning,” Glazer writes in an e-mail. “This job becomes your life, so you need to be doing this for the right reasons and have the experience to do it.”

PAIRING UP AND DOING THE DANCE

As these five frontrunners discreetly emerge, the awkward process of forming tickets begins. Not all five of them will run for president—rumor has it some of them might even prefer the VP spot. But as the candidates make their intentions clear in coming weeks, speculative negotiations will begin behind closed doors. In the words of Blake M. Kurisu ’07, a former chair of FiCom who would not comment on his plans for the coming election, “it’s like going through a dance—because you don’t know if someone’s asked before, you might as well wait for someone to ask you.”

The shake-ups in committee leadership leave possible pairings difficult to predict. Many expected Haddock and Epstein to run together, and the abrupt turnover at SAC and CLC has left UC vets dazed.

“The fact that there are not that many returning members of the Council is going to make this election a lot harder to call in advance than last year’s,” says UC Treasurer Matthew R. Greenfield ’08, who is suspected to have his own presidential ambitions for 2006. Greenfield served as UC secretary last year and says he has no plans to run for president or vice president “any time soon,” though some have him pegged as a potential vice presidential candidate.

“My impression is that there’s no clear favorites,” says UC secretary Ashwin Kaja ’07, who started his first semester on the UC this year. This power vacuum means any pairing is essentially on the table.

A Gadgil/Haddock team seems unlikely, however, in light of tensions left over from the SAC race. Haddock sent an e-mail to members of SAC the night before voting took place, calling Gadgil out on preemptive campaigning—a move that may have soured his relations with the new chair.

Then again, some say that Haddock and Gadgil already appeared friendly towards each other in recent meetings, dispelling rumors of any hard feelings.

“In such a small committee, the way it works is when you’ve just spent a week campaigning against someone else, it’s not that easy to start working well with them so soon after, especially if you’re subordinate to them,” says former SAC member Neeraj “Richie” Banerji ’06.

THE ISSUES

Voith, whose new leadership position on CLC has given him a much-needed boost in political clout, is now a much more attractive candidate than he was as a mere vice-chair.

But whether he can accrue a track record impressive enough to compete with the SAC clan remains to be seen. Traditionally, SAC members make more attractive candidates because they can tout specific reforms such as 24-hour libraries and universal key access, while CLC leaders are much more vulnerable because their failures—events like the Afterparty and Booze Cruise—are so visible.

Then again, the UC’s role in social planning is going to be a top issue in this year’s presidential race, which could mean a CLC candidate is more welcome than usual. “I think examining social life at Harvard is going to have a huge role in upcoming discussion on the Council,” Gadgil says.

Most members seem to agree, although the Council is somewhat split on the specifics. Some want more UC control over Dean’s Office-sponsored social events like Pub Nights, while others clamor for more cooperation. The division may serve to differentiate candidates’ platforms when they’re on the campaign trail.

It’s possible that in the end, these issues are going to matter more in this election than any credentials or positions.

“Having a title doesn’t make you a leader, it’s what you do that makes you a leader,” Wilson says.

Epstein points out that unlike last week’s committee elections, the presidential race is based on a popular vote of the student body—a group largely disconnected from the internal machinations of the UC. All this political stuff, in other words, might not even make a difference.

“The rest of the campus doesn’t really care or understand about the UC’s internal structure,” Epstein says. “The thing about having positions of leadership is that it serves to build support among members of the UC, but that’s not essential.”

After all, outsider candidates posed a serious threat to the last two well-credentialed UC presidents. Perhaps the only way this year’s less-seasoned bunch can keep their leadership on the inside is through banding together against a common enemy. But before they can do that, of course, the contenders will have to come clean about their ambitions.