Sparks fly at final pre-election Assembly debate

A Student Assembly candidates’ debate last night finally delivered the excitement and contention that the presidential and vice presidential races had been previously lacking.

Though sparsely attended, the round-table format and informal setting of the Hyphen provided the candidates with a more conducive forum to openly argue and to criticize their opponents — and they put on a sometimes-heated show for the audience.

Due to the formal structure of last week’s two debates, the candidates were unable to clearly differentiate themselves and their platforms for the audience.

But last night, at the first formal meeting of all seven candidates, the participants engaged in an active discussion of the differences between their agendas.

Although presidential candidates Scott Jacobs ’99 and Kathy Kim ’00 and vice presidential candidates Dave Altman ’99, Nahoko Kawakyu ’99 and Ben Oren ’00 all actively participated in the discussion, a clash between presidential candidates Frode Eilertsen ’99 and Unai Montes-Irueste ’98 dominated the event.

Eilertsen laid out in detail his proposal for creating a “Student Union” separate from the Assembly that would serve to unite campus organizations in discussion as well as to facilitate joint tackling of issues that are important to students.

Montes-Irueste challenged the feasibility of Eilersten’s plan based on the contention that students would have no more “incentive” to participate in a Student Union than they currently do to bring issues to Assembly meetings.

The Assembly is a weak institution in need of a strong leader willing to operate “outside the system” as well as within it, Montes-Irueste said. The Assembly president needs to be able to “politicize” issues in order to garner popular support, he said.

Eilertsen said Assembly leaders should be able to convince the people who elected them and their “vision” to follow their lead. If the Assembly president takes an initiative that other students do not support, perhaps the president’s stance is wrong, Eilertsen answered.

Jacobs contended that the Assembly president holds no “golden ticket” mandate since only 42 percent of students vote in the election to begin with. He countered that the role of the president is to “support and speak with volume for all 4,400 students.”

Kawakyu offered a plan of action with an emphasis on actively seeking student input. She suggested incorporating the Undergraduate Advisor system into the Assembly since UGAs are “the door to the freshmen” and could be invaluable in both disseminating and collecting information.

Oren agreed that the vice president should “have a finger on the pulse of the campus,” but stressed that issues that he or she does not believe in can only effectively be carried out if delegated to other Assembly members who feel passionately about them.

Oren and presidential running mate Kim both proposed a platform of “activism.” They plan to compel the administration to respond to student initiative through protests and using the force of thousands of students they feel will support the Assembly with them at the helm.

Altman said he plans to change the current balance of power between the Assembly and the administration by “team-building” within the Assembly and by creating “allegiances” between the Assembly and other student organizations.

Altman ultimately intends to force the administration to seek out student input through interaction with the Assembly.

A moment of tension unsettled the audience when Kawakyu accused Eilertsen of being too caught up in the election campaign and of ignoring his friends.

“You don’t listen when people oppose you,” she said.

The confused audience sat stunned while Kawakyu forced Eilertsen to play out an apparently private issue in a public forum.

Part of the tension may stem from the fact that Altman, Eilertsen, Jacobs and Kawakyu have all been friends and partners on 1999 Class Council since last year, and running against each other this spring has produced a degree of awkwardness among them.

The Assembly elections will be held tomorrow and Wednesday over the World Wide Web.

Last night’s debate was sponsored by the Butterfield/Russell Sage cluster and organized by Brian Hughes ’99 and Kevin Goldman ’99.

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