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Lurie Lobs Political Bombs at Opponents

By May Habib and Bari M. Schwartz, Contributing Writerss

Winning isn’t everything for Undergraduate Council presidential candidate Jason L. Lurie.

“I would be equally happy if I lost but the winner used my ideas,” he says.

Lurie says he entered the race to whip up the competition and put his ideas on the table.

Lurie is the lone candidate running solo, in his second race for Council president and fourth campaign.

“You have to be arrogant,” he says, seemingly unfazed by his long electoral odds. “You have to think your ideas are the best.”

With an armband asking “Aren’t you a Proud Member of Jason Lurie’s Merry Band of Jokesters?”—a reference to a recent editorial by The Harvard Salient calling for his impeachment from the Council—Lurie posters Yard kiosks and walls in advance of next week’s presidential vote.

In his three semesters as Cabot House’s Council representative, Lurie has spent much of his time giving a voice to minority opinions and, of course, stirring up debate.

He opposed last spring’s council decision to grant funding to Harvard Right to Life’s controversial Natalie poster campaign.

He also attacked the council’s decision to restore funding to the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship (HRCF) after he led the drive to take away their financial support.

Lurie, who is vice president of the Harvard Secular Society, accused HRCF of discrimination in its constitution, which mandates that officers subscribe to specific principles of religious faith.

This confrontation made him unpopular with some students, but Lurie wears this, like his armband, as a badge of courage. Politically, he wears his heart on his sleeve. Outside of the Science Center last week, Lurie bore his defiant message even more explicitly: “If the Harvard Salient is afraid of him, he must be doing something right!”

What Harvard Student Want

Lurie says his extracurricular experience taught him what students want: more money for their student groups.

“[UC] programs are good but often wasteful,” he says, citing expensive concerts and Harvard-Yale shuttle subsidization. “What students really love is what they spend their time doing. And what they spend time doing is student groups.”

Lurie keeps busy as vice president of Demon, a Harvard humor magazine, as well as secretary of Harvard Students for Healthy Babies. “Unlike my opponents, I’m not a council-only guy,” he says.

Lurie thinks it’s an asset that his extracurricular interests extend beyond the council. On his website, he speaks of the insular nature of some representatives, criticizing the council for “allocating too much money to UC bureaucrats’ pet projects.”

Joshua A. Barro, finance committee chair, has gone head to head with Lurie on many council issues.

“[Lurie] is simultaneously my favorite and least favorite member of council,” Barro says. “Sometimes he is refreshing, sometimes he’s rude.”

Lurie wants to permanently increase the amount of council funding available for grants to student groups. He says that Barro has misleadingly claimed credit for this year’s increase in the grant fund.

“They found old bank accounts, and it was a one-time influx of money,” Lurie says.

Political Science

A chemistry concentrator and science course assistant at the Extension School, Lurie hopes his “scientific mindset” will attract Harvard’s science students to his campaign.

“Science may move across the river. All the other candidates are doing social studies, humanities,” he says. “They don’t care if a lab is moved across the river—they’ll never have to go there.”

Greater faculty diversity is also a unique aspect of Lurie’s platform, though not in the traditional sense.

Lurie considers himself a liberal but wants to ensure that students hear from all sides of the political spectrum.

“When I say diversity, I don’t just mean minority groups. More women are needed, and there’s a dearth of conservative professors. Harvey Mansfield, Ruth Wisse, Martin Feldstein, can you name another one?” he says. “I think you need professors who challenge you.”

Lurie is seeking endorsements from a number of liberal, scientific and pre-professional campus groups, though he demurred from naming any at the time of an interview for this article.

Parts of Lurie’s platform—such as instituting universal keycard access and building a student center—mirror those of candidates with more experience on the council, but Lurie pledges that he is actually going to follow through on such campaign promises.

Though his opponents have released comprehensive policy plans, Lurie emphasizes the tight focus of his seven-point program.

But this platform seemed to elude Lurie at Thursday’s presidential debate. “I don’t have vision or ideas, but I have balls,” he told a packed audience in Science Center A. “I will bitch and moan on your behalf.”

Lurie, who compares his campaign style to that of dark-horse U.S. presidential candidate Al Sharpton, drew snickers during the debate for his proposal to retain current council President Rohit Chopra ’04 as a paid adviser next year.

Candidate Lurie frequently refers to this plan to keep Chopra, claiming him as a valuable asset to the council—a “mini-dean,” as he said on his website. “A vote for Jason is a vote for Rohit!” Lurie said during last week’s debate.

In an e-mail, Chopra said that he would be happy to volunteer as a council alum advisor but noted that he plans to take off next semester. “I think I need to go into detox to get the UC and Harvard out of me—I have definitely overdosed,” he wrote.

Chopra has since reversed himself and says he plans to stay at Harvard next semester.

Some critics dismiss coopting Chopra as a ploy. According to Gladden J. Pappin ’04, to whom Lurie pointed when asked to name an “enemy,” this is just a way to lure voters with Chopra’s popularity.

“Jason Lurie wants to ride the success of Rohit’s administration while turning back the clock to the days when ideology trumped service to students,” Pappin says.

Speaking Out

Student policies, not political ideologies, have dominated the presidential campaign so far, but Lurie thinks that left-right political ideology is important even to council politics.

“Why do conservative groups get such disproportional funding?” he asks. “Because I think the UC has a very large portion of its members from current and past boards of the [Harvard Republican Club].”

Lurie says that candidates Matthew W. Mahan ’05 and his running mate Mike R. Blickstead ’05 are “very religious,” and that Barro and Adams are “out there,” noting their conservative beliefs. Adams is an HRC officer, and Barro is secretary of the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans.

When it comes to evaluating the competition, Lurie doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t think that the council experience of Mahan and Barro makes them better-suited for the job of president.

“Their experience will bring us a bad experience,” he says.

Lurie admits that Mahan and Blickstead are the front-runners, but he criticizes the job the two have done since being elected to the council.

“They’re taking credit for things they didn’t do,” Lurie says. “Mike folded like a French deck of cards last year over the alcohol [at Springfest]. He has been saying things like he’s God. ‘I’ll get you free beer.’ He won’t. He’s just being dishonest.”

Opponents Aaron S. Byrd ’05 and Divya A. Mani ’05 are “popular,” but, according to Lurie “don’t know what’s going on.”

“You can’t dislike Aaron because he’s so friendly,” Lurie says. But he predicts that Mahan and Blickstead have the election “in the bag.”

For all his political guts and fury, Lurie concedes that council will be in good hands no matter who wins.

“All the presidential candidates would do an okay job,” he says.

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