Two years after the fiery discourse of CNN’s “Crossfire” left campus, political debate returned to the Media and Public Affairs Building last week.
Ten candidates running for Student Association president and executive vice president faced questions in the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday night before a crowd of about 150 students. The five presidential candidates and five EVP candidates focused on the organization’s future advocacy efforts and debated the merits of heavy previous involvement with the SA.
In preparation for Wednesday and Thursday’s election, the candidates answered questions from panelists including two Hatchet editors and a writer for the Daily Colonial Web site. A senior Hatchet editor also moderated the two-hour forum. The event – the First Annual GW Hatchet-SA Candidates Debate – was taped for WRGW radio and GWTV.
SA President Lamar Thorpe welcomed the students to the auditorium by sharing his experiences during the past year.
“I have learned that the major job (of president) is an advocate for students,” Thorpe, a senior, said. “The dirty secret is that 99 percent of time spent is representing students in Rice Hall.”
The event was organized in part because of the absence of a formal debate in last year’s election. Two years ago, the SA sponsored a debate with the National Honors Society. The Hatchet and the SA, which co-sponsored Thursday’s forum, plan to hold the event every year.
The SA presidential candidates included juniors Marc Abanto, Michael Ray Huerta, Casey Pond, David “Tito” Wilkinson and sophomore Nicole Capp. The EVP candidates included juniors Elliot Bell-Krasner, Nick D’Addario, Chris Rotella, and sophomores Andrew Cooper and Brand Kroeger.
All of the candidates said the purpose of the SA is to advocate on behalf of the student body and work to improve communication between students and administrators.
“Advocacy, advocacy and more advocacy are the most important parts of the SA,” said Cooper, who is running with Pond.
Wilkinson said the SA president must act on his plans for advocacy. “We need to be about action and getting things done for students,” said Wilkinson, who is running with Kroeger.
Capp said advocacy begins by working with students through the SA and that she knows how to make the organization more effective.
During the EVP portion of the debate, the dialogue was at times tense as the candidates discussed the use of SA funds.
In the State of the SA address, Thorpe proposed a $1-per-credit-hour increase, which would apply to incoming undergraduate students and transfer students. Thorpe said that the current student fee of $1 was not enough to support the SA.
Kroeger said that he and Wilkinson were working with USA Today to bring back free newspapers for students. This fall, the University cut the GW Reads program that provided three free newspapers to residence halls.
“Tito and Brand are about providing services that are costly,” Cooper said of his opponents. “It is not about providing costly services.”
During the debates, candidates structured many of their arguments around the significance of being an “SA insider.” In recent elections, some candidates have emphasized their inexperience with the SA, maintaining that they would bring a fresh perspective to an organization plagued with problems.
“(The term) ‘SA insider’ is going to haunt me forever,” said SA Sen. Abanto, who is running with D’Addario. “However, there are so many other things I have done. I am not just about the SA.”
Rotella, who has served in the SA Senate for two years, was characterized as an “SA insider” at the debate.
“People are implying that if you have experience in the SA, that it is a bad thing,” said Rotella, who is running with Huerta. “It is not.”
Bell-Krasner said that being an “SA insider” or an “SA outsider” does not matter to him. “I’ve been both an ‘SA insider’ and an ‘SA outsider.’ Regardless, you can advocate,” he said.
Although many of the presidential candidates had similar responses throughout the debate, they were divided on the relationship between the University and the Foggy Bottom community.
Since spring 2006, the University has been advancing a 20-year Campus Plan that defines future construction in Foggy Bottom. The plan, which many local activists oppose, calls for major academic and commercial development by constructing taller buildings in the center of campus.
Abanto and Wilkinson said that GW has a strong relationship with neighbors.
“We do a good job of living with the Foggy Bottom community,” Wilkinson said. “I am confident we will continue to build on this relationship.”
Capp and Pond, who have worked to promote the Campus Plan with a student group called “Campaign GW,” said the relationship with Foggy Bottom is strained.
“You would be surprised how heated the meetings are,” Capp said. “They are displeased. We need to keep the community involved.”
During a 10-minute audience Q-and-A period after the presidential debate, an undergraduate student asked if SA senators were running for the sake of holding office.
“We are not a bunch of student playing politics,” Abanto said. “Most of (the senators) aren’t planning on a career in politics.”
Hatchet Senior News Editor David Ceasar organized and moderated the debate. Panelists included Hatchet Senior News Editor Brandon Butler, Hatchet Opinions Editor Gabriel Okolski and Daily Colonial Campus News Reporter Andrew Springer.