As the candidates explained the ideal relationship between student government and administration, a small mechanical hum sounded in the audience. Slowly bubbles began to rise, filling the already electric air of Hoyt Hall.
More than 100 students gathered to watch the first in-person SA presidential debate since 2019. The debate was one of the largest in recent memory, with four of the five presidential tickets in attendance, nearly corresponding to 2016 six-ticket record field. Cole Senecal and Michael Hardy, both sophomores, were unable to attend.
The debate lasted an hour and a half, covering a variety of topics, including how the candidates plan to communicate with the student body, the ideal relationship between the administration and the AS, the overall effectiveness of the AS and major issues affecting the student body.
For many students, the debate was a great way to try to see if any of this year’s nominees embodied the perfect Rochester SA candidate.
“I think a good candidate is basically passion for school, passion for taking it beyond where it is, and absolute disdain for dining halls because if you like those things, you haven’t tasted a single morsel of flavor in your entire life,” sophomore Isabella Kelly told the CT.
the The Arnold/Abbey ticket, run by first years Sage Arnold and Finn Abbey, stood out easily from the other three tickets in dress. Presidential hopeful Arnold was dressed in a French maid outfit while Abbey, future vice-president, wore a t-shirt and jeans. Arnold cited Transgender Awareness Day (which was March 31) as part of the outfit’s inspiration, saying, “We love our trans friends, myself included. You can’t help but notice that I’m the most visibly transgender candidate here.
These candidates often received the loudest applause from the public by putting a humorous spin on many of the responses: advocating for the decriminalization of sex in the library, lowering Hillside prices through “nationalization”, liquidating the business department and using the first incoming years to widen the tunnel. system. They also highlighted their ability to get students who are not typically interested in student government involved in SA through their use of “unconventional tactics”.
“I want to look a little [SA] like when your friend says his car has a top speed of 30. Let’s see how fast this baby can go! If we’re not sure we can do anything, let’s aim high,” Abbey told the audience with a laugh. “If you want to convince the student government people by doing something, you’re not aiming for the little things, you’re aiming for something big that’s inevitable, you can’t ignore it. Like tearing up the Wilson Commons quad and turning it into a community garden. No one will say that student government can’t do anything when they see this.
When asked to discuss his qualifications, Abbey mentioned that he unsuccessfully ran for the Vermont State Senate in 2018, winning 3,700 votes in the Democratic primary.
Second year applicants Adrija Bhattacharjee and Sybilla Moore also often garnered meaningful applause while discussing their goals of working to change SA’s bureaucracy, hold frequent town halls with students, and provide more funding for student services, among other goals. The candidates said they see bureaucracy “both in South Africa, but especially in the administration” as the biggest challenge moving forward, and hope to change the perception of South Africa to let it be that of a student union, as opposed to a government.
“I have already established links with most members of the administration”, Bhattacharjee told the audience early on. To applause she continued, “When I’m elected to this position, I’ll go to a meeting with President Mangelsdorf and I won’t ask myself, ‘Hi, how are you?’ I’ll be like, ‘what’s up?’ because I’ve been here before, I’ve had these conversations before, I’ve been advocating on your behalf since the moment I came to this school […] At the end of the day, if the administration tells me no, it’s going to fall on deaf ears, because I don’t take no for an answer.
Both Moore and Bhattacharjee have previous SA experience, with Bhattacharjee currently serving as a senator. Bhattacharjee also pointed out that she is the only woman of color to run for president of South Africa.
Junior Boris Sorokin and freshman Isabel Edelstein also acknowledged SA’s bureaucratic hurdles and pledged to “democratize” SA, increase resources for first-generation students, and help reduce college costs, such as creating grants to reduce fees manuals. Sorokin hopes to continue his work of internal SA reform at the helm. The post also affirmed their commitment to strengthening clubs to ensure students can organize.
“We should make sure there’s structural support for these clubs and financial support because at the end of the day it’s very difficult to defend anything if you just don’t even have the funds to print. flyers,” Sorokin told the audience.
The Sorokin and Edelstein ticket is the only ticket that crosses class years, with the two contestants being in a different graduating class. The post hopes to be more representative of the student body by being able to take advantage of different class years.
Juniors Abhinav Singh and Matthew Cosentino argued that due to not being previously affiliated with SA, they would bring an outside perspective and offer a fresh approach.
“We’re two strangers with outside perspectives on what doesn’t work and what works,” Singh told the audience. “Coming to this with an outside lens, it’s not some kind of naive notion where we’re just going to say, ‘Let’s make a big change’ – we understand what we need to do, what we want to do, and the ways and the processes we’re going to take to do it,” Cosentino added.
The Singh/Cosentino ticket pledged to expand mental health resources, noting it as the most pressing issue on campus, and hoped to get UR to release a full breakdown of its budget. The ticket also hoped to reallocate funds that currently go to public safety.
The debate was moderated by Dean of Students Matt Burns and ACJC Chief Justice Sam Smith. The debate began by giving each post a two-minute opening statement before diving into a series of questions both pre-planned and from the audience. Students were able to submit questions online in advance via a form or during the debate by writing them on index cards and forwarding them to the moderators. The debate ended with a rapid-fire round where each candidate was given 15 seconds to answer a question to help show the candidate’s personality.
“It was really nice to have [the debate] live again, it makes a big difference,” moderator and Dean of Students Matthew Burns told the CT. “There’s an excitement to being live, and I think some of the contestant’s passion and some of the humor wouldn’t have come out on Zoom the same way he does live.”
The students left the debate happy to have been able to get to know this year’s candidates in depth.
“[It was] very entertaining but also very educational overall, I thought,” freshman Lydia Faldowski told the CT. “It was a nice change of pace from normal events like this, where it’s normally very serious all the time – I liked the juxtaposition between the more entertaining contestants and the more serious and intense. “
“I think having a mix, the range of humor and a little bit in and out of that was a good idea, I thought it kept people engaged,” freshman Joseph DiGrandi told the CT. He later added, “I’m glad we were able to have some serious moments despite that, so the lineup was very important to me.”
Voting will begin Wednesday, April 6 at 10 p.m. and end at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, April 7. Preliminary results will be available online at SA website before 11:59 p.m. on April 8.