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16 Candidates, More of the Same

By Sarah J. Schaffer

A political debate does not tell you much about the people involved. It rewards those who exude charisma and speak in eloquent turns of phrase, and it punishes those who may have brilliant ideas but less-than-clever ways of expressing them. So take this analysis of last night's Undergraduate Council debate with more than a few grains of salt. I am not endorsing any particular candidate but simply evaluating who came across best.

Overall, the candidates did not emphasize their records enough (perhaps because a good many had no records) and discussed too many issues in politico jargon ("improved safety," "Core reform") rather than telling us what specific steps they would take to effect change. But that recalcitrance may have been a consequence of the size of the pool: four minutes total for the five vice presidential candidates, five and a half for the 11 presidential contenders (minus Adam D. Green '99).

Elizabeth A. Haynes '98 was the clear presidential winner, with Eric M. Nelson '99 (a Crimson editor) a close second. Haynes promoted innovative ideas such as requiring council members to attend their house committee meetings, and she demonstrated her two years' knowledge of the council with direct and thorough responses to the moderator's and panelists' questions. Consider her answer to the last question of the night, "What makes you the person who should go to the administration at Harvard?" In one minute, she deftly summarized her experience dealing with administrators such as Secretary to the Administrative Board Virginia L. Mackay-smith '78, capping it off with, "Getting things done at Harvard means more often than not bypassing Dean Lewis." That statement alone will win her fans.

Coincidentally or not, Mark A. Price '98, Haynes' "running mate" (as Election Commissioner Marco Simons '97 pointed out in one of the night's few commercial breaks, voting for president and vice president is independent), came across as the most enthusiastic of the vice presidential candidates. His opening statement sounded like a State of the Union address, referring to "Chris, a freshman" who needs better advising and "Celia from Leverett" who wants money for her student group. Yet he managed to sound genuine in his desire to "build a council that students give a damn about," and he won the audience to him with his "ditto" after a long series of other candidates' answers to a question about race relations at Harvard.

Nelson and current Vice President Lamelle D. Rawlins '99 also performed well, but with less crisp and definitive answers than Haynes. The co-author of last year's Nelson-Grimmelmann Act started strong, hunkering down to the podium and gazing out at his listeners with conviction, but lost some connection with the audience as the night wore on. Rawlins, whose play-it-safe attitude and serious demeanor reflected the attitude of someone who's practically in heir apparent, appeared a little too packaged at times but nevertheless enumerated her accomplishments clearly.

On the other presidential candidates: Benjamin R. Kaplan '99, a Crimson editor, stuck with his issue of council-fund raising to the exclusion of all else. Albert S. Lee '98 emphasized the council's irrelevance to the majority of students, always a safe topic, and proposed ideas slightly off the beaten path, like a bike trail through the Yard. William P. Pyonteck Jr. '00, a brave first-year, touted himself as "a complete outsider" but was soon challenged by Eli W. Bolotin '98, who apparently wanted the title as well. (Bolotin also made the unfortunate mistake, at least in these quarters, of referring to The Crimson as a perhaps unreliable source.) Justin E. Porter '99 came across as earnest, if incredibly idealistic, in his desire to "roll up our sleeves and go into the dean's office" to work together and create world peace.

We were all grateful to presidential candidates Joseph G. "Freeman" Cleemann '98, Philip R. Kaufman '98 and David S. Goodman '97-'98 for providing some necessary comic relief in the sweltering air of Ticknor Lounge. Cleemann reiterated a commonly held sentiment about the council as "aristocratic debate society superimposed on a high school dance committee." Kaufman, standing tall with his hands on his hips, exuded Midwestern charm. And Goodman played-stand-up comedian with his "Good Man" (read: Superman) signs and his green plastic mobile dinosaur with yellow mane and blinking red eyes.

The four vice presidential candidates besides Price barely distinguished them selves, other than Michael A. O'Mary '99, who began two of three responses by attempting to ride high on Rawlins' coattails. Joseph A. Sena '99 (yet another Crimson editor) gave thoughtful if lackluster answers. Selamawi H. Asgedom '99 offered a unique council-as-boxer image ("a little jab at safety, a little jab at student representation on the Ad Board") but faded toward the end of each speech. And Ethan G. Russell '98 provided the requisite laughs with his admission, "It seems that every time I get up here I put my foot in my mouth."

And so, life continues. Rawlins insisted last night that "there's a lot at stake here," but I'm not so sure. Is it really possible for the Undergraduate Council to change from a body filled with useless politicking to one representative of and responsive toward The People United? Who knows? Vote Monday, and maybe you'll find out.

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