MITSC talks to USC presidential candidates

The ContendersThis started as an email to Arden Zwelling but turned into the kind of thing I figured some other people would want to read too, at which point it occurred to me that I had my own publication.

Zwelling, for those who have actively stayed out of the know, is the incredible force of nature behind the Gazette’s “Blog the Vote“. I have no idea how big his readership is, but as the editor of a campus publication that gets zero feedback, I totally respect how much work he’s putting into original content that’s keeping people interested and engaged. This post is something of an homage.

The USC presidential candidates came to the MITSC’s weekly meeting Tuesday night to give our faculty their pitches and answer some questions. Although I’ve been following the campaigns closely, it was the first time I’d met the three of them in person and it really changed my perspective. Apparently there’s only so much you can learn about a person from a video, a poster, and a rabid, dogmatic campaign team. It’s a shame the majority of voters (who are, incidentally, the minority of students), will never actually talk to the candidates themselves. 

After he arrived late, I was immediately surprised by how shaky Andrew Forgione appeared. Given the relatively small size of our council and his very professional brand, I figured he’d be a little more cool and collected when he spoke. It was a late meeting though, and he’d been campaigning all day, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

David Basu Roy, too, did not sell himself with his speaking. Although his ideas were good (he’s obviously a very bright and thoughtful guy), he tended to go on too long and repeat himself, often losing his audience’s attention. I appreciate how he tailored his answers to FIMS, however, which reinforced his “get to know the plebs” message.

Omid Salari, as I had been expecting from his well-publicized antics and very candid campaigning approach, captured the room’s attention with his presence and humour. His rhetoric was far more populist than Basu Roy’s very down-to-earth approach, but far less mechanical than Stephen Harper’s — er, Forgione’s. Salari also worked plenty of praise for MIT into his talk, although he made a few slip-ups in his assumptions about what exactly those FIMS kids study and spend their time doing.

I mention their stage presence because appearing as a respectable and inspiring, yet approachable, icon is half the job of a figurehead like the USC president. When one of these guys gets up on the O-Week stage to welcome 7000 frosh, what’s going to happen? Only Salari will get more than a golf clap if Mark Wellington doesn’t cut his mic off first.

Can the next prez handle O-Week stage fright?

When it came to the MITSC’s questions, Forgione was well-rehearsed and effectively worked his platform and past experience into his answers (I lost count of the “Well, as social science president, I…” tie-ins). He only really stumbled when I asked whether it was more important to tailor USC policy to the 20% of students that care about the USC and use its existing services, or spend the effort and resources trying to engage the 80% that doesn’t care. It wasn’t supposed to have a right answer, but he somehow ended up on a middle ground that left me and the rest of the room confused.

Basu Roy had a lot of good answers, and I will reiterate that he comes across as a very smart individual. Unfortunately, his better platform points (like textbook loans and club subjectivity), are tougher to sell than wireless boosters or swear words.

Salari stole the show for me — and not only because of his suggestion that he’d pay FIMS students to do media work for the USC. He was quick on his feet, confident in his approach, and eager to engage with the people in the room. When I asked whether he views student government positions more as leadership opportunities or as positions of responsibility that demand accountability, he was quick to take a position and passionately defend it, saying something to the effect of: “USCers need to get off their lazy asses once they’re elected and do something for the electorate.” It was an explosion of energy and honesty in an otherwise safe and guarded discussion. It was also a position I strongly agree with, having witnessed far too many sophs and student government leaders practicing what I call “year long convenience”, rather than the “year long commitment” they sign up for.

Overall, it was a generally amicable question period in front of a small and fairly inconsequential student group, so take from it what you will. I’ve tried to remain neutral throughout the campaign period, and after this meeting my vote is still waiting to be earned.

That being said, the picture of what each candidate brings is becoming much clearer:

Forgione is the safe choice with the legion of followers that haven’t read any platforms but really love “Social! Social! Social Sciii!” He will maintain the USC status quo, which is either a great thing or merely an OK thing, but not something to really worry about.

Basu Roy is the apparent intellectual, who is legitimately (and very admirably) trying to connect with students at the student level, but doesn’t have the mob appeal that seems to be a requirement for the position. He has a vision for the USC that I respect, but I worry that he doesn’t have the USC know-how and connections to make as big an impact as he would otherwise be capable of.

Salari will certainly make the biggest difference to the USC as an organization and may very well be the visionary the USC needs to get out of its current rut. Whether he wins or not, the other candidates can learn a lot from his frank assessments of the USC as well as how he engages a crowd. He is a bit of a loose cannon, which scares me just a little, but it’s exciting to see someone running on a platform that addresses so many of the things the USC’s biggest critics have been saying for years. If his innovative guerrilla marketing tactics can draw in the elusive first year vote, he might just surprise everyone in this election.

One thought on “MITSC talks to USC presidential candidates

  1. Pingback: “Real” Debate Entertaining, Few Surprises « mitZine Online

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