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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Senators question politics of Union presidential race

Published: March 27, 2009
Section: Front Page

A series of meetings between Student Union President Jason Gray ’10 and students considering running for Student Union President, which resulted in the students deciding not to run, have raised questions among Union senators about whether Gray is attempting to sway the election in favor of Executive Director of Community Advocacy Andy Hogan ’11.

Candidates running for Union office were required to sign up outside of the Union office by Wednesday, at which point they could begin campaigning for Thursday’s elections.

Prior to the Wednesday deadline, three students, Class of 2010 Senator Amanda Hecker ’10, Sahar Massachi ’11 and Associate Justice to the Union Judiciary Matt Kriegsman ’11 all discussed the prospect of running for president against Hogan with Gray, after which they decided against running.

Gray has denied any allegations that he is playing favorites in the race.

Kriegsman, who had gone so far as to write his name on the elections sign up sheet, told The Hoot in an interview that his talk with Gray “definitely scared me out of running.”

Kriegsman said that Gray told him that he felt Kreigsman’s inexperience in the Union made him unqualified for the office of President.

While Kriegsman said that “that part of the conversation was legitimate,” he added that he “definitely felt pushed aside and like Jason had someone else in mind for the office.”

Kreigsman said that Gray did not mention a candidate he would prefer, however, he said that “I would hate to think that I was manipulated. I don’t know if I was or not, but I’d be curious.”

After speaking with Gray, Kreigsman crossed his name off the list for those running for Union President. Kreigsman, who now plans to run for a spot on the Union Judiciary also said Thursday that he does not regret his decision to not run and that his talk with Gray “wasn’t the only thing that made my decision.”

However, Kreigsman did say, “I came to him for advice, and now I wonder if I got agenda.”

Both Massachi and Hecker said Gray did not tell them that they were not qualified for the presidency, however each said that after discussing with Gray what the presidency entails, he suggested that they run for a different Union position.

Massachi, who is now running for the Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees, said that when he told Gray he had been considering running for an Executive Board position as well, Gray told him, “he could see me running for president but that he was more excited about me running for the Board position and my skill set was more appropriate for that.”

Massachi added that he believes that Gray would not tell him not to run for a position simply because he has a favorite in the race.

Hecker, who is running for Union Vice President said that Gray also told her that he was worried about her inexperience in running for president and that “he told me that [Hogan] would make a great president because he has [Executive] Board experience. He said that he could see me as President and Vice President and that he would have to train me if I won.”

Hecker said she ultimately decided to run for Vice President and not President because “I didn’t have my heart in the presidency.”

“People should only run if they really want to,” she said. “If they talk to Jason and then are discouraged, that shows they don’t want it and they shouldn’t run.”

Rosenthal Quad Senator Philips Loh ’11, who signed up to run for president against Hogan only a half an hour before the deadline, told The Hoot that he did not speak with Gray prior to the Wednesday deadline.

In the past two years, there have been four Presidential candidates in the first round of elections. To some senators, the small field and the pattern of potential candidates deciding not to run after speaking to Gray is suspicious.

One senator who wished to remain anonymous because they were worried about the effects it would have on their future in the Senate, said, “this idea that three candidates would talk to Gray and not run and the one candidate who is running against Hogan didn’t talk to Gray is definitely suspicious. It means that something isn’t right and that something is going wrong.”

“It is the absolute right of the student body to choose their own President, Vice President, Secretary Treasurer and more,” the source continued.

The senator also said that that “it is not up to the current President to decide who is qualified to run,” and pointed out that qualification is a vague term.

Gray admitted to meeting with students looking to run for President, however he said, “I am not ready to get involved in the election.”

Gray held that it was “legitimate” for him to explain what his job entailed to students considering running and for him to give the students his “honest opinion.”

However, Gray also said that “there are a multitude of reasons why I would tell someone not to run for the presidency.” “One, because they are better at something else, and two because I thought someone else would be better at the job.”

Union Executive Director of Communications Jamie Ansorge ’09 told The Hoot that “if a student decides not to run for a position after speaking to Jason, that’s their decision and reflects more on them than it does on Jason.”

Gray’s involvement in the race is not the only aspect making senators nervous.

One student who had been thinking of running for president but then decided against it told The Hoot that Hogan had offered them a position on the Executive Board if the student would not run for president.

The student, who wished to remain anonymous because they were worried of its effect on their current election, said that the offer took place “in a serious conversation” with Hogan.

Hogan did not deny offering a student the position, but said that the offer occurred before either he or anyone else had signed up to run.

While there is currently no bylaw in the Union constitution against promising Executive Board positions in turn for support in an election, a similar bylaw will be proposed to the Union Senate on Sunday. This bylaw, if passed, would have no effect on the current election, only future elections.

This is not the first time in Union history that current Union Presidents have been suspected of picking their successor or that Executive Board positions have been used in order to gain support in a race.

Executive Senator Andrew Brooks ’09 said that senators have questioned the politics behind the past four presidential elections.

Most recently, Brooks said that when he ran against Shreeyah Sinha ’09 for the 07-08 presidential term, Gray was appointed to the Executive Board after showing loyalty to Sinha, who won the race.

In Gray’s race against Kang for the 08-09 term, all but one member of the Executive Board supported Gray because he had E-board experience. Gray was the only sophomore on the E-board.

Similarly, this year, Hogan, who was appointed to the Executive Board in January, is the only sophomore member.

While Brooks would not comment on the current presidential race, he did say in general terms that “I am not okay with people trying to circumvent the democratic process even though it has been historically done.”

He also mentioned that the qualifications of potential candidates should not be defined by any current member of the Student Union and pointed out that in the fall’s Vice Presidential election, Brooks, a three-year member of the Union, was defeated by Adam Hughes ’11, who had no Union experience.

“I don’t think that people in political power should convince others not to run in order to help another candidate,” Brooks said. “It’s a conflict of interest.”