Forty-five minutes into Wednesday’s debate between ASG Presidential campaigns, moderator and former ASG presidential candidate Alessio Manti dissolved the terms of the debate.
Steven Monacelli had just used his team’s one rebuttal - he said he doubted whether ExpressioNU, a Reddit-like website proposed by the Shao campaign, could be made as quickly as they claimed it could – and Manti said that since there was apparently a skirmish, it was time, as planned, to dismiss the formalities of debate.
“We’re gonna have an open discussion,” said Manti, a Weinberg senior. “It’ll be challenging, but we’ll feel our way through it.”
It was a move uncharacteristic of ASG debates but characteristic of the student political group “Sincerely, America,” which hosted Wednesday’s debate. Lately known for painting the Sheridan Road sidewalk orange, Sincerely, America Co-President Alicia White said the group held the debate to “hopefully ask some harder-hitting questions.” It was, she said, the first non-ASG-administered debate in an ASG campaign.
“The problem with ASG debates is not many people came to them,” the Weinberg junior said. At its peak, about twenty non-candidates attended Wednesday’s debate.
Six candidates did: Three possible presidents and three executive vice presidents, one more pair than have run in the past two elections. Vice-presidents spoke for the first 15 minutes of the debate, presidents got the next 15. The two sides shared the podium for the last half-hour: Weinberg junior Victor Shao, running with Medill junior Brad Stewart, stood at left; SESP junior Kameron Dodge took the center with his running mate, Communication junior Steven Monacelli; and Weinberg juniors Dan Tully and vice presidential candidate Jeziel Jones took the right. Monacelli and Dodge are literally running mates; their platform has them serving as “Student Government President” and, more anatomically, “Student Body President,” respectively.
All the candidates agreed almost immediately that ASG in its current form was deeply flawed. The Dodge-Monacelli and Stewart-Shao campaigns proposed similar solutions, speaking of ASG like it was a business.
Asked who had been the best ASG president of the past four years, Dodge praised Claire Lew, who served from 2010 to 2011. Although he disagreed with her plan for comprehensive Senate reform, he said she “valued innovative thinking” that the campaign hoped to model.
“Passion, dedication, and”–Dodge reiterated–“innovation” had been the key to Lew’s success. Later, he claimed “engagement” was the key to overturning the "brothel law."
And mirroring language Mark Zuckerberg uses to talk about Facebook, Shao said “at the heart” of his campaign was “student expression.”
“We are the ones responsible for the speech bubbles all over campus,” the Weinberg junior said. He later said students would defeat the "brothel law" by voting locally and practicing engagement.
The Shao and Dodge platforms often disagreed about execution. Shao and Stewart advocated using the web to interact with students where Dodge and Monacelli advocated meetings face-to-face. Monacelli said ASG’s 5K initiative, which ended this year in a vote to add WiFi to the Lakefill, had not found success because it transpired entirely online.
The Tully-Jones campaign, meanwhile, sometimes spoke in a similar Facebookese. In his closing remarks, Jones said Tully’s campaign was “not just about expression, not just about acting, but about connecting.”
“What will always work,” Jones said, “is networking.”
But otherwise, Tully and Jones positioned themselves as protest candidates, focusing on vastly different issues than Shao or Dodge. When asked about ASG programs to improve or instate, Dodge and Shao both criticized the 5k initiative. Tully said he hoped to “hold events that mix, physically mix, athletes and non-athletes.” The goal of his administration, Tully said, would be to eliminate “invisible social hierarchies.”
“We’re the only candidates who joined ASG, served as senators, and quit,” he said to applause. “If you want a traditional ASG, don’t vote for me.”
Tully went as far as to question the usefulness of ASG’s government.
“ASG’s hands are tied by its own constitution,” he said, referring to a failed amendment that would have allowed ASG elections to be moved for religious holidays. “We would act for students first.”
Referring to candidates only by honorific–“Thank you, Mr. Stewart” was a typical remark–Manti, the SESP senior who ran against Lew in the 2010 ASG election, played a sometimes skeptical moderator. He asked Shao and Stewart why, when they both led the same fraternity, Delta Upsilon, their website trumpeted their involvement across campus groups. Shao said the site reflected his campaign’s priorities. Manti asked Monacelli and Dodge how, if they served as co-presidents, they would deal with disagreements. Dodge's response was that they have a shared set of core values.
So what happened when Manti swept away protocol, declared no holds barred, allowed the candidates to have a discussion?
They barely tussled. Both Jones and Dodge claimed to be so focused on their own teams’ platforms they didn’t have time to research anyone else’s.
“I like partnerships,” Tully said, referencing the Dodge-Monacelli platform.
He pivoted to a Shao-Stewart partnership: “I like websites.”
“We’re all students at the end of the day, all working toward making Northwestern a better place,” Stewart added. Monacelli agreed.
“I think the consensus across platforms is that ASG should be about students,” he said. Tully and Shao nodded.
Correction: The original version of this article stated that only two candidates had run for ASG President in each of the past three years. This was incorrect; Luke Adams ran against Mike McGee and Bill Pulte in Spring 2009.The article above has been corrected.
Full disclosure: Steven Monacelli has written and edited for NBN.