Although all the usual USC and campus media suspects were in attendance, the number of simply interested students at the highly-anticipated “real” debate tonight was impressive. I was lucky to even find a seat at the back of Huron’s Great Hall, where I took in the evening’s festivities with fellow Zine writers Steve Wright and Julian Uzielli. The event was exceptionally well-run—free wine and cheese is always a plus—so big ups to the Huron, Brescia, and King’s students’ councils for making it happen, and to Dan Moulton for moderating an entertaining debate.
The debate format was an exciting change of pace from the various question periods the candidates have been enduring for the past week. Moulton made sure to keep their comments concise and relevant, and the large crowd stayed engaged throughout. Rebuttals were polite, but critical, and there was just the right amount of applause and heckling to keep the candidates encouraged, but honest.
By this point in the campaign—the “dog days”, as it were—all three candidates have finally figured out what sets them apart. Ten days of campaigning has allowed them to drop unpopular platform points from their rhetoric and focus on their key selling points, which are all appropriately distinct from each other. So while we didn’t learn too many new things about the candidates at this debate, we got a much more concrete impression of what is most important to each of them.
Salari, the most engaging speaker of the three, was at his very best in this debate. It was all “good Omid” (the one that uses his USC experience and charisma to champion the student voice and student solidarity), not “bad Omid” (the one that uses antics to sell himself as a funny guy). He was the most eager to challenge his fellow candidates with pointed rebuttals, and more than happy to take their criticisms in stride.
Basu Roy was far more composed than at Tuesday’s question period, and I was very impressed by the defence of his more ambitious platform points. He showed a very good understanding of USC operations while still reinforcing his image as the non-USC candidate. He suffered from ambiguity at times, however, and was called out by both Salari and the audience for not providing concrete strategies for implementing several of his ideas.
Forgione is still the competent, well-researched candidate he was last week, but his tendency to ignore the substance of questions and instead talk about whichever platform point is most relevant is getting frustrating. On too many occasions tonight Forgione fell back on prefabricated talking points or generic “more communication, more community” rhetoric when faced with difficult questions. Although the importance of the president being able to think on his feet is questionable, Forgione certainly lags behind the other candidates, especially Salari, in terms of his ability to think for himself and take a position without a campaign team to back him up.
There were a number of good questions tonight, both from the moderator and #realdebate, that provoked interesting answers, but a few stood out:
Moulton earned a nervous laugh from the audience and candidates alike when he challenged them to identify the USC executives they thought had done the best and worst jobs this year. Basu Roy praised VP University Affairs Meaghan Coker before hesitantly labelling VP Student Events Justin Mackie as the worst of the bunch. The poor VPSE was also identified by Forgione as the position needing the most improvement, while he credited VP Campus Issues Scott Kerr as the most effective executive. Salari heaped glowing praise on VP Finance Ely Rygier for turning the USC into a “marginally profitable organization”, but surprisingly refused to call anyone out as the worst.
Asked to point out their opponents’ least feasible platform points, both Salari and Basu Roy ripped into Forgione’s cell phone boosters and chargers. Forgione responded with a scathing critique of Basu Roy’s community greenhouse. Forgione admitted he hadn’t even read all of Salari’s platform before going ahead with a critique of Salari’s notion of talking to every student on campus. Salari responded with a critique of Forgione’s “midnight meals”.
The feel-good moment of the night was when the candidates were asked to point out the positive qualities in their opponents that would be most important as president. Forgione and Salari praised Basu Roy’s student-focused philosophy. Basu Roy and Forgione recognized Salari’s charisma and engaging personality. Salari commended Forgione for his likeability and approachability, while Basu Roy suggested Forgione would provide the most stability to the USC.
Reinforcing his image as the traditional SSSC/USC candidate, Forgione selected Emily Rowe as the past president he most identifies with. Salari identified Fab Dolan for his willingness to stand up for students.