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Candidates debate prominent student issues

Jenn Metz | Thursday, February 5, 2009

The four tickets vying for the positions of student body president and vice president presented themselves before their constituents in the annual general election debate held by the Judicial Council Wednesday night.

George Chamberlin, president of the Judicial Council, acted as moderator of the hour-long debate, and asked the candidates three questions from the Council and five submitted by students.

The tickets – juniors Laura Burdick and Derek Sanchez, junior Grant Schmidt and sophomore Cynthia Weber, junior James McCaughan and sophomore Tom Gorski and freshmen Luke Lennon and Charlie Harig – gave two minute opening statements, introducing themselves to the students crowded in the LaFortune Lobby and outlining certain platform initiatives.

Selected at random, the Burdick-Sanchez ticket spoke first. Burdick, the presidential candidate, informed the crowd of the pair’s current positions as Athletic Co-Chairs in the Hall Presidents Council.

“We’ve had the privilege of hosting pep rallies, and we went beyond our call of duty and revamped them,” Burdick said.

She listed approachability as a strength of their campaign and said they hope to “improve student life in every aspect.”

Burdick said their platform, which consists of the formation of an athletic council, a loan forgiveness program and a revenue council, has “a lot of open space left.”

“We want to know what you want,” she said.

McCaughan, his ticket’s presidential candidate, told the audience the common theme of their platform “has been a change in regards to disciplinary measures at the school.”

The pair also lists strengthening relationships with the South Bend community as a goal for next year, and McCaughan said they have received “endorsements from various eateries and other establishments.”

Third to speak, the Schmidt-Weber ticket, emphasized their experience in student government and their desire to build upon this year’s momentum.

Schmidt, currently serving as student body vice president with Bob Reish as student body president, said this “year as spent bridging the gap, communicating to students what the issues were and working with the city.”

Though some have criticized the Reish-Schmidt administration for being, as Schmidt called, “buddy-buddy” with the University administration, Schmidt said “knowing the channels and knowing who to talk to are the only ways to guarantee success.”

Weber, the only vice-presidential candidate to speak in the opening remarks, emphasized the research that went into their platform, and called upon the audience to “Give a Schmidt,” alluding to one of the campaign’s slogans and Web site addresses.

Lennon, the presidential candidate of the Zahm ticket, chose to speak without a microphone when introducing himself.

Throughout the evening, he took on several roles: that of politician, game show host, pop star and martial arts superhero, and delivered lines with a presidential cadence that brought a laugh from the audience.

“Our campaign is not built on experience or fancy posters or shaking hands with the student body,” he said. “People are hearing about us through the classrooms of Jordan, the dorms of North and South Quad, the urinals in DeBartolo and on the omelet line.”

Lennon told the audience that he and his roommate, Harig, run on the principle of honesty, and decided to reveal some secrets, including his true identity by stripping down to a white body suit.

“I am indeed the White Power Ranger,” he said. “For the last semester and a half I have been protecting you from Lord Zedd.”

In the question and answer portion of the debate, the tickets were allowed two minutes to answer the three questions from the Judicial Council and 45 seconds to answer the questions submitted by members of the student body. The pairs alternated who spoke first in response to each question.

The McCaughan-Gorski ticket said their most important plan for improving student life at the University involved game day police action.

“[We aim to] deal with the football atmosphere and the police hostility that is presented toward students,” Gorski said.

McCaughan added one way of improving the game day environment is providing students with an outlet to voice their concerns. He suggested moving the student government offices from their current location on the second floor of LaFortune to the first floor to facilitate communication.

Schmidt listed taxi reform as the ticket’s biggest initiative for improving student life. The reform would consist of two tiers, he said: safety and convenience.

In terms of safety, Schmidt and Weber seek to initiate a system of cab driver identification; they propose selling taxi fare booklets to eliminate the need to carry cash or deal with fluctuating flat rates for convenience.

Reiterating their platform’s commitment to honesty, Harig was very blunt about the Zahm ticket’s ideas for bettering student life.

“The biggest minority on this campus is beautiful women,” he said, suggesting a merit scholarship system based on voting that would provide “hot chicks” free tuition to the University.

The Burdick-Sanchez ticket is most concerned with pursuing a “Safety First” campaign with the Office of Residence Life and Housing (ORLH) and the Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) that includes a policy of education before punishment.

Sanchez said the University “is doing a disservice” to freshmen, or others, who are not as experienced in situations where alcohol is involved “by slamming them with ResLifes.”

The second question addressed community relations; Schmidt mentioned the Reish-Schmidt administration’s involvement with members of Community/Campus Advisory Coalition (CCAC).

“The biggest thing you can do with community relations is working with these people, sitting down with these people,” he said.

Weber said they plan to work directly with members of the community, and said she anticipates widespread participation in April’s Communiversity Day.

In response to this question, Lennon decided to “make a motion,” and performed Beyoncé’s dance to her hit single “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

The Burdick-Sanchez campaign lists creating an off-campus blog modeled off of NDToday.com, where students can post about their neighborhoods and specific houses or apartment complexes as a way of improving community relations.

Burdick said her and Sanchez would like to create a handbook guide to South Bend and Mishawaka to be distributed to freshman, with information on restaurants and shops.

“If they know where things are, they will go out into the community, spend some money, and everyone is happier,” she said.

Gorski said students are doing admirably with creating good feelings between the campus and greater South Bend communities. He suggested publicizing campus events more to better students’ image in the eyes of South Bend residents.

“Notre Dame students aren’t bad people,” he said. “We just have a bad reputation … [the members of the South Bend community] don’t see the good we’re doing.”

The third question from the Judicial Council asked the candidates how they plan to improve communication between student government officials and their constituents.

Harig, sporting bright blue shorts, a Michael Vick No. 7 jersey and a cape and speaking for the Zahm ticket, decided to “completely disregard the question” and, along with Lennon, listed various other platform initiatives, like lubricating salad bowls at North Dining Hall to prevent sticking and changing the football ticket lottery system to a set of obstacles like those played on the 1986-1993 Nickelodeon game show “Double Dare” hosted by Marc Summers.

“If you get caught in a big peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you’re only going to a few games this year,” Harig said.

Sanchez and Burdick propose a two-week agenda-setting period in which they will review suggestions from students on how to fill in their platform.

“Students will be able to know what’s going on and to have a say,” he said.

McCaughan said he wants to make student government more accessible in general, with the relocation of its offices to the first floor of LaFortune and the creation of a group on Facebook where students can “write on the wall what’s on their mind.”

Weber commented on the 3,500 responses to the Student Census, a Reish-Schmidt initiative. The results of the Census, she said, are published and can be used to “build upon the success of this year.”

Schmidt said there “are only so many ways we can reach students” and that “normal conversations” are the way to find out with people really care about.

The five off-the-agenda questions ranged in topic from the feasibility of the tickets’ proposals to dealing with the campus’s noticeable skunk problem.

Burdick said her ticket’s platform is a proposal to the student body.

“We want to know what it is you want,” she said, mentioning the pair have met with various department heads to discuss the feasibility of their ideas.

Gorski said it is important to “keep talking” in order to get proposals accomplished, and mentioned another campaign idea: creating an interhall laser tag league.

Schmidt and Weber rattled off the names of the members of the University administration with whom they have spoken during their research and who have said their ideas are feasible.

Lennon said he utilized the Internet to determine how successful his proposals would be.

Another question related to a student government effort to continue the campus’ “green initiative.

McCaughan said every time he sees an aluminum can in the trash, he wonders why someone did not recycle it.

“If you keep emphasizing it, people will do it,” he said.

Schmidt vowed to stand behind GreenND, which was made an official Notre Dame Club this year.

Harig said global warming does not exist, and in order to cut costs, Notre Dame should initiate a system of indentured servitude in the power plant for students who cannot pay off their student loans.

The Burdick-Sanchez ticket emphasized students’ role as facilitators in the going green process; Sanchez specifically mentioned using more electronic advertising the in the future to limit wasted paper.

A third question asked the candidates what parts of their campaign will be enacted immediately upon taking office; Weber said adding hot Grab ‘n’ Go options has already been approved by Notre Dame Food Services.

Lennon proceeded to take on the role of the host of “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and asked the audience for suggestions, while Burdick said their team can get started on “Safety First” idea immediately.

Gorski mentioned bringing “better concerts, like Wu-Tang and Creed,” to campus.

The tickets had not thought of researching the skunk issue, and were unprepared to answer the question about reduce the animal’s presence on campus.

Sanchez said his team would pursue the most humanitarian way possible; Gorski suggested vigilantes; Schmidt admitted he was unsure what attracts skunks so that they can be trapped; and Harig, off-topic again, discussed the idea of buying out people’s “contracts” – like those of professors, annoying classmates and athletes who might not be performing to accepted standards.

When asked who the candidates would vote for if they themselves were not in the race, Burdick-Sanchez and McCaughan-Gorski said they would vote for Zahm, Lennon-Gorski said they would vote for the Zahm ticket that would run in their stead, and Schmidt-Weber said they would vote for Burdick-Sanchez for their sincerity.