Editor’s note: The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board, hosted in The Daily’s Opinion section, initially endorsed the ORGANIZE campaign but has since pulled their endorsement. No one from the News section was part of the decision to issue or retract The Daily’s endorsement of ORGANIZE.
In the eleventh hour before voting in the annual Central Student Government elections began, ORGANIZE vice presidential candidate Sam Burnstein, LSA junior, resigned from his party’s ticket following public controversy over tweets from 2017 he had liked on his personal Twitter account.
Though Burnstein is dropping out of the race, ORGANIZE presidential candidate Sujin Kim, LSA junior, and the representatives running with the ORGANIZE campaign will continue to run as planned, Kim confirmed to The Michigan Daily via text. If Kim were to win the election, she told The Daily she would appoint ORGANIZE campaign manager Annie Mintun, LSA junior, as vice president, contingent on the Assembly’s approval.
As of midnight Wednesday, Burnstein’s name was still on the ballot, though Burnstein emailed the CSG elections directors to be taken off the ballot in a Tuesday 10 p.m. email obtained by The Daily.
Burnstein’s resignation comes after the Inter-Cooperative Council of Ann Arbor confirmed to The Daily they will be pulling their endorsement of the ORGANIZE campaign following the surfacing of screenshots that show likes from Burnstein’s Twitter account. The Daily Editorial Board, who endorsed the ORGANIZE campaign Monday night, also pulled their endorsement Tuesday night after learning of Burnstein’s liked tweets.
Included in the screenshots are tweets from 2017 Burnstein that included xenophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Burnstein told The Daily he immediately unliked all of the tweets in question after being alerted to them. The Daily could not confirm when the screenshots were taken or by whom.
In a statement released to Twitter on Tuesday evening, Burnstein said the likes, which he said are from his junior year of high school, are not representative of the values he holds today, which have changed since he began attending the University of Michigan.
“I want to emphasize that the content from those likes in no way represent the person I am today, the views I personally hold, or the goals of the ORGANIZE platform that I helped co-author,” Burnstein’s statement says. “I do not want to reduce or minimize the potential for harm at the time these tweets were liked, or now with this rhetoric resurfacing. I am deeply apologetic for any harm caused by these liked tweets.”
In an interview Tuesday night with The Daily, Kim said Burnstein’s decision to step down reflects the issues the tweets could cause for the campaign rather than his work ethic or personal dedication to CSG.
“I know Sam pretty well,” Kim said. “I think all of us on the campaign do. And his stepping down, that was a decision he came to himself and that’s not a reflection of what we think of him. It’s nothing against Sam, who to all of our knowledge, is a person who’s grown a lot since those past ideologies and has done active work in the past couple of years to work towards righting those wrongs that he believed.”
Kim said because ORGANIZE’s platform discusses diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and aims to work on behalf of underrepresented communities, being associated with the racist and xenophobic tweets would be harmful for the campaign’s mission and work if Burnstein were elected.
“If we are a campaign together, and we’re claiming to fight with marginalized students, marginalized communities, students who need representation in the student body, and if we are working to be that kind of body, working to be that organization, a lot of people — and Sam included — felt that history was a lot to overcome, honestly,” Kim said. “And it would be difficult to send that message and difficult to do that work in a way that was honest, in a way that was effective, if that were trailing constantly.”
ICC President Julian Tabron, a Rackham student, told The Daily that ICC initially decided to endorse Burnstein because he worked extensively to advocate for and help the ICC provide affordable student housing.
Tabron, who noted the ICC became aware of the liked tweets Tuesday evening, said the ICC has not previously endorsed a campaign for CSG and does not plan to do so in the foreseeable future.
“We don’t typically endorse CSG candidates historically,” Tabron said. “The only reason we endorsed Sam Burnstein for this election is because he helped us tremendously in the CSG allocation for the $32,000 that we received in January. Outside of that, the ICC is pretty politically neutral in the U of M CSG realm, so we don’t usually partake in endorsing.”
The Graduate Employees’ Organization, who also endorsed ORGANIZE, told The Daily they also became aware of Burnstein’s liked tweets on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday evening, GEO held a meeting of the Stewards’ Council — the body of GEO that traditionally makes endorsements — and decided not to retract their endorsement of ORGANIZE. In a Thursday morning Instagram post the group said they “fee assured that this team is committed to equity and justice at U-M and will diligently continue their work.”
The University’s chapter of College Democrats also endorsed ORGANIZE but took down the post announcing the endorsement on Instagram Tuesday night. In a statement to The Daily Tuesday evening, LSA sophomore Julia Schettenhelm, the chapter’s communications director, said they recently became aware of the situation and take Burnstein’s liked tweets “very seriously.”
“We also recognize the harm this information is causing members of our organization and the greater campus community and believe these actions are unacceptable,” the College Democrats’s statement said. “We finally thank the people who spoke up and have created awareness of this issue.”
Nursing freshman Carolina Ballesteros tweeted out the screenshots Tuesday evening. In an interview with The Daily, Ballesteros said she knew Burnstein personally and met him on a dating app. Ballesteros said she decided to publicly release the information because she knows that if elected, Burnstein would have a major impact in the University community.
“I didn’t even know of these tweets until recently, I met someone who knew Sam, and they were like, ‘Yo, yeah, he’s pretty messed up. He’s running for VP and this is the stuff he was doing on Twitter,’” Ballesteros said. “I just keep running into people who have been slighted by him, so it just turned into a, ‘Oh, this person knows Sam too,’ and they shared screenshots with me.”
The IMPACT campaign originally posted a statement on their Instagram condemning the tweets but later deleted it. Engineering junior Carla Voigt, vice presidential candidate for IMPACT, said in an interview with The Daily Tuesday night her campaign became aware of the liked tweets shortly before Ballesteros posted them.
“We heard in the past that Sam has sometimes said kind of odd statements in terms of his views, but this is the first tangible evidence we’ve really seen and we came to know about it today,” Voigt said. “One of our members … is friends with Carol, who is the person who posted it, and (the member) kind of told us, ‘This is about to happen’ and we kind of knew. And that’s why we had a pretty large response on social media — because we were alerted when it was posted.”
In a statement to The Daily, LSA junior Nicole Lin, vice presidential candidate for CHANGE, wrote that their campaign condemns the language used in Burnstein’s liked tweets and hopes that, if elected, her party will be able to make CSG a more inclusive space.
“Current CSG members tend to be close-minded and only care about moving up in the chain,” Lin wrote. “We have this in mind as we are running with the intention of representing actual student ideals and beliefs while using current administration resources to move forward with plans that we feel best represent current student climate.”
Voting for CSG elections opened up for students at midnight on Wednesday, March 24 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, March 25.
This article has been updated with new information from GEO.
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