Elections and Ejections: Wild Week for GUSA

By Dave Heaton Hoya Staff Writer

A roller-coaster series of events since GUSA’s presidential election campaign season officially kicked off earlier this week has resulted in the dismissal of one candidacy, the resignation of the head election commissioner and the disbanding of GUSA’s constitutional council.

GUSA Executive candidates Paul Stroka (COL ’02) and Dan Ryan (MSB ’02) were disqualified by the election commission for violating campaign rules Monday, only to be reinstated by the constitutional council following an appeal. However, the appeal was then overturned when it was found that the constitutional council had not been sworn in by the GUSA assembly. The fate of the Stroka/Ryan ticket now lies in the hands of a new constitutional council to be appointed today by current GUSA president Ron Palmese (MSB ’00) and sworn in by the GUSA assembly. The new council will then hear the candidates’ appeal and issue a final ruling.

In an unexpected turn, Head Election Commissioner Kerri Tyman (COL ’00) resigned Thursday, citing a disenchantment with the electoral process that has resulted in the whirlwind series of dismissals, reprieves and disqualifications. Other members of the student association have indicated that they might join Tyman pending the results of an emergency meeting of the GUSA assembly today at 3 p.m.

The GUSA election commission disqualified presidential hopeful Stroka and running-mate Ryan from the race for violating campaign policy after executive candidates Jamal Epps (COL ’01) and Jeff Burns (COL ’01) accused the two of destroying some of their campaign materials. Epps and Burns said that members of their staff witnessed associates of Stroka and Ryan ripping down Epps/Burns election posters after they had been posted around campus.

Epps also said that someone –though not mentioning Stroka and Ryan specifically – had conspired to have them disqualified by removing their posters in New South and re-hanging them in areas prohibited by the campaign commission. The election commission did not consider the second allegation.

“The water has been muddied a bit and we’re sorry to see that. We are just trying to get back in and run this thing like its supposed to be,” Stroka said.

A similar situation arose last year, when GUSA executive hopefuls Jon Yeatman (MSB ’00) and Wendi Wright (SFS ’01) accused candidates Rip Andrews (COL ’00) and John Butler (COL ’01) of violating election rules. In that case, then-Election Commissioner Jackie Shapiro (COL ’99) decided against disqualification.

According to Dominique Burzacchi (MSB ’00), a senior class representative who met with Tyman before the election commission meeting Monday night, Tyman had decided to disqualify Stroka and Ryan before hearing from the candidates. After listening to the two sides and considering fining the candidates, members of the election ultimately decided to disqualify Stroka and Ryan.

During that same discussion, another member of the commission said that Stroka and Ryan were not running a serious campaign, demonstrated by the fact that the ticket kicked off their campaign with a party rather than a more traditional approach. During Thursday night’s presidential debate, Stroka stressed that he and Ryan were serious about their campaign. The assembly allowed Stroka and Ryan to participate in the debate despite their dismissal because of the unique circumstances surrounding their disqualification.

As the discussion progressed among the members of the commission, Tyman said she wanted to “draw the line” because, as she explained to the other members of the commission, she did not want there to be any question of the decision. According to the GUSA election bylaws, the commission may expel candidates for the destruction of other tickets’ campaign materials, though a lesser penalty may also be adopted.

“Dan [Ryan] and I feel that that it was a biased group. What was particularly upsetting was the comparison of a couple of kids that we know ripping down some fliers to the destruction of the menorah,” Stroka said. “That shows a lack of perspective on the part of the people who threw us out. We’re very sorry for what happened, and we’ve apologized. But the two incidents aren’t even related.”

During the hearing, Tyman said that ripping down the fliers was “especially disturbing in light of the menorah incident.” Epps also confirmed that Stroka had contacted him earlier in the day to apologize for the incident.

Following a brief meeting later that evening with Palmese, the two immediately announced their intention to appeal the decision to the constitutional council.

The next morning, Stroka and Ryan formally filed for an appellate hearing with the constitutional council, who, as outlined in the election procedures, may overturn any decision of the commission.

“We don’t think that the punishment fits the crime,” Stroka said. “We expect to be back in the election after the hearing with the constitutional council.”

Tyman and the two candidates gathered before a hearing of the council Wednesday night to hear the appeal. At that time, Eric Rivers (COL ’02) told council members that any decision that they reached would be invalid since the GUSA constitution requires that all three members of the council be present for a quorum and council member Homer Carlisle (COL ’00) was absent. However, given the urgent nature of the decision, all parties involved decided to move forward.

At the meeting, both sides explained their side of the issue. Tyman again said, “We can not perpetuate acts of intolerance in any way, shape or form.” Speaking directly to Stroka and Ryan, she added, “[the disqualification] was a decision of the whole commission. The fact that you were negligent and not in the right state of mind to prevent your fliers from being removed from your apartment played a part in the decision.”

At the hearing, the student in question admitted to tearing down the fliers, saying, “I’ll accept full responsibility. But these guys don’t deserve to be kicked out for something that I did.”

According to testimony at the hearing, that student was not affiliated with the Stroka/Ryan campaign. Rather, after leaving a party, he stopped by Stroka’s Henle apartment, which was empty at the time. He grabbed some fliers that were sitting on the table and left for the Leavey Center, posting the fliers in illegal locations and tearing down those from other candidates.

“We didn’t bring him in originally [to the hearing before the election commission] because we had no idea that we would get thrown out of the campaign,” Stroka said. “Dan and I did nothing wrong except leaving the door to the apartment unlocked.”

After hearing from both sides, the two council members in attendance _ Eddie Ferrer (MSB ’02) and Howie Wachtel (SFS ’02) _ both agreed to allow Stroka and Ryan to re-enter the race.

However, following the hearing, it was discovered by Rivers that the constitutional council had never been sworn in by the assembly, even though Palmese had previously made the appointment. He called the class representatives in order to demand an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.

“In my view, the constitution is the most important thing,” Rivers said. “If these guys get back in, I’m going to resign.”

Executive Advisor Yea Afolabi (COL ’00) and Burzacchi, who had been in Hoya’s Restaurant and Bar during the meeting, were yelling at Ferrer for the decision after the meeting.

“This decision is totally illegitimate,” said Afolabi, as both she and Burzacchi also threatened to resign. “You have to go with precedent,” she said.

Ferrer defended the council’s decision, saying “I understand the indication of the precedent in that it allows a loophole for people not associated with the campaign to tear down signs in the interest of their friends. But, I don’t think that Stroka and Ryan should be held accountable for someone not associated with the campaign committing an act of their own volition.”

The already-peculiar election took another bizarre turn when Tyman announced her resignation as head election commissioner Thursday.

“I’m disappointed because I really believe in the ruling of the election commission. The rules were broken, there was a punishment to be levied and we acted in accordance with the by laws,” Tyman said. “I feel that it points to the inefficiency of GUSA that this constitutional council had never been sworn in. It’s just another example of how disorganized GUSA is.”

At Thursday’s emergency assembly meeting, Benny Adler (MSB ’00), GUSA chief of staff, said, “It’s my responsibility to oversee the appointments,” acknowledging that the constitution council, which was supposed to be formally approved by September, was never sworn in by the assembly.

As the class representatives discussed possible solutions, Tyman read her letter of resignation which accused the executives of playing favorites in the campaign and ignoring the authority of the election commission.

“This is an organization that I do not want my name to be associated with,” Tyman said.

Aaron Polkey (COL ’02), a sophomore representative working for the Erlich/Klein ticket, apologized to Stroka and Ryan for the situation and said that he supported forming a hearing board consisting of faculty and administrators.

Sophomore Representative Brian Walsh (COL ’02) disagreed, saying that it would undermine the authority of the students to bring in non-students to resolve the situation.

Despite the disagreement of Senior Representative Jon Yeatman (MSB ’00) _ “I think things are fine the way they are,” Yeatman said _ the body ultimately agreed with a proposal by ayumi Grigsby (FLL ’02) to interview other candidates that had applied last spring for the constitutional council.

“It’s just college politics,” said Senior Representative Theron cLarty (SFS ’00), reminding other members of the assembly not to take themselves so seriously.

Until the new constitutional council is appointed, Stroka and Ryan are still technically out of the race.

“I just want this all to end,” Tyman said. No new head election commissioner was chosen to replace her.

Ryan was confident that he and Stroka would be reinstated.

“We’re gonna get back in,” Ryan said. “Stuff needs to be changed and this has been clearly manifested in the last two days.”

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