For most of us, Student Association elections are a yearly headache. They represent a time of year when we each go out of our way to avoid getting palm-carded in Kogan. We also have to deal with that annoying kid in our hallway, class or student org who just won’t leave us alone about supporting “candidate X” because he or she “is really cool and has great ideas!” Last year, I was in the majority of people who really just did not care and saw this entire process as pointless. This year, that all changed. I went from the furthest on the outside someone can be to right in the middle of the madness as a campaign manager, and it has changed the way I look at my experience at GW.
What most students do not realize is that the SA election process begins months in advance, as potential candidates begin to decide whether they want to put the time and effort into running for office. Most seek the advice of close friends or “SA insiders” with the hopes of finding a team with which to run a campaign. Josh Goldstein and I met in a class last year and quickly became friends, thanks to our shared passion for politics and love of Jewish humor. Over winter break, he told me about his desire to run for executive vice president and approached me about managing, in his words, his “nutty enterprise.” After seriously thinking about whether I would actually want to get involved in anything with the SA – given that I had never seen it accomplish anything positive during my time at GW – I ultimately agreed to help Josh out.
It wasn’t until after we returned from break that I finally began to understand the impossibly hard challenge I had agreed to. The biggest challenge in this entire process was finding ways to get the thousands of students who do not care to start caring, and attempt to garner favor with the 300 student organization leaders and “insiders” who turn out voters and produce endorsements. Throughout the entire run-up to the election, Josh and I had a simple motto: “Any vote we secure now is one that we didn’t have before.” By Snowmageddon, we had contacted nearly every student group on this campus to meet with them and find out more about what issues they cared about. These meetings provided the basis for Josh’s platform.
As election season finally became apparent to the rest of campus, most of our opponents had a solid base of support and, like us, were excited to unleash their ideas on the student body. This came first in the form of securing endorsements. In a six-day period, Josh attended seemingly endless interviews, endorsement hearings and the chapter meetings of nearly every sorority. The most unique challenge in this process was finding a way to work with groups in which we ourselves were members, and too often, those endorsements turned out to be the most difficult to secure. As we learned the hard way, membership in an organization does not guarantee support. Those six days also featured two debates and provided time for us to organize people to help get the word out. On the Sunday night before elections, Josh had student and Greek-letter life meetings every 10 to 15 minutes. Looming over this process were the unnecessarily specific campaign rules that can lead candidates and their campaign teams to try and win SA elections by getting their opponents disqualified.
After two days of constant palm-carding and campaigning, I was mentally and physically exhausted. Josh finished with more than 20 percent of the vote in a four-person race, but we fell 204 votes short of getting ourselves into the runoff – a showing that was disappointing, but still something we could be proud of.
We were beaten, but not defeated. All four EVP campaigns had numerous violations filed against them, and although disqualifications of Logan Dobson and Rob Maxim would have probably kept our chances alive, I am glad the JEC has risen above the fray and stayed true to its purpose of overseeing elections instead of deciding results. It would not have felt right to see Josh certified as EVP because of some overly strict reading of the JEC charter. I applaud the JEC for dismissing many of these charges, even if they would have meant personal gain for Josh and me.
This election experience was one that exemplified everything that is both right and wrong about GW. Getting involved and understanding issues that matter to students made me a better member of the GW community. Yet the perception of dirty politics being used in elections nearly undercut the legitimacy of these elections and reminded me why so many students hate the SA. While it is true SA elections appear to be a pointless political simulation on the surface, the hours of work that go into them – which I have now experienced – have shown me there are leaders out there who truly care. I want to thank my friend Josh Goldstein for giving me one of the most challenging and fun experiences in my time at GW. I can only hope more students take advantage of this opportunity in the years to come.
The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.
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