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Candidates square off in debate

Amanda Michaels | Friday, February 4, 2005

Amid the buzz of LaFortune’s dinnertime din, the six tickets for student body president tried to make their voices heard in the de-bates Thursday night.

The seating area in front of the Burger King played host to the debates for the first time, chosen over previous locations for its potential to draw passers-by into the action. The rumbling of food carts, chatter of students and drastically fluctuating crowd – swelling to near 100 at the beginning, but dwindling to an approximate 30 by the closing statements – made the situation less than ideal for the speakers at times, but the candidates proceeded despite the distractions.

Supervised by the Judicial Council, the debates followed a familiar format of opening and closing statements from each ticket, with six randomly drawn student questions answered by all the candidates in turn stuck in between.

The common thread pulled throughout the hour-long event was results over experience, as veteran student government members proudly displayed their accomplishments, less-tested candidates pointed out the shortcomings of the current and former administrations and all six promised tangible results if elected.

The Mark Healy-Bob Costa ticket emphasized its record with programming – especially Costa’s connections with big-name bands from his high school and reporting experiences – and pledged “better concerts, better bands, better events.”

Making achievable results the centerpiece of their platform, the Craig Brede-Vijay Ramanan ticket focused on plans for cheaper textbooks through NDBay, printers in every dorm and an online, accessible form of Teacher Course Eval-uation – all of which they claimed to be more feasible than their opponents’ promises.

“You’re not going to get a rousing speech or a sexy idea; just strong, sensible leadership,” Ramanan said.

Dave Baron and Lizzi Sha-ppell focused on the concept of a $50,000 per year concert endowment in their opening statement, as well as the “Catholic Think Tank” speaker series Baron said would revitalize Notre Dame’s image as “the voice on social justice.”

James Leito and Jordan Bongiovanni underscored what they perceived as the difference between themselves and the other candidates – passion for improving student life.

“You can literally see how much we passion we have by the fact that we live more in the student government office and administration offices than our dorm rooms. Just ask our roommates,” joked Bongiovanni.

Adding an element of levity to the evening were the Will Marra-Pete Harig and Alec White-Erik Powers tickets.

Marra kicked the debates off by ordering a number seven from the Burger King and plugging the video on his Web site that he claimed to be “life-changing.”

White and Powers took a different approach, marketing the benefits of their height in the event of low-lying fog, and their plans to communicate with the ghost of the Gipper with a Ouija Board and provide him companionship with ritual freshman sacrifices.

The six student-provided questions raised the issues of the possible club status of AllianceND, gender issues on campus, Notre Dame’s “culture of life” and candidate experience, as well as to what the candidates perceived to be students’ number one concern, and how they planned to fight apathy.

Despite Marra-Harig’s cryptic answer of “if you’ve seen our video, you know where we stand on homosexuality on campus” and White-Powers’ decision to pass on the question, all the tickets expressed their support of Alliance-ND’s push for club status, as well as those of other clubs that promote diversity and discussion – an idea brought up later in the “culture of life” discussion.

In holding with their individual platforms, Healy-Costa pointed to better concerts as students’ major concern; Brede-Ramanan said that it was the little things, like ROTC’s Pass in Review moving to South Quad and printers in the dorms, that made the difference; Baron-Shappell outlined their plans for a more accessible student government; Leito-Bongio-vanni rallied for cable, wireless and printers in the dorms; White-Powers spoke in favor of women’s suffrage; and Marra-Harig offered Ecto-Cooler as the solution to student needs.

Solutions to the problem of student apathy ran the gamut, from the proposals for a more open and accountable student government, visible results and even the institution of a dress code.

“We can’t make students care, but we can make them angry. So we’ll institute a dress code to make people angry,” White said. “Then we’ll repeal it to give students what they want.”

Appropriately, the evening wrapped up with a question on candidates’ experience, which made a smooth transition into the candidates’ final affirmation of the priority of results in the closing statements.

Baron offered an optimistic note to close the debates.

“Looking around, I’m confident that no matter what happens [in the election], student government will be in good shape next year,” he said.