The virtual polls at vote.www.umich.edu will open tomorrow for Michigan Student Assembly elections. Before the polls close on Thursday at midnight, students will choose between two slates of candidates to lead the student body for the next year, including contenders from the Students 4 Michigan Party, the Defend Affirmative Action Party. The now defunct Maize Rage Party is announcing its withdrawal from the race today. A careful examination of all the candidates and their platforms reveals that Students 4 Michigan candidates Jesse Levine and Alicia Benavides are the best choice to lead MSA over the upcoming year. Although we endorse the Students 4 Michigan candidates with some reservations, they represent the only party in this election that is willing to address a broad spectrum of important student issues and take decisive action in defense of students’ rights.
Kate Stenvig and Monica Smith, the DAAP candidates, represent what is, in essence, a single-platform party, as is clear from the party’s name. They are running with the goal of upholding the school’s affirmative action policy, which is especially vital due to the possibility that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative will appear on the state ballot in 2006. DAAP contests the placement of MCRI on the ballot with plans to bring MCRI proponents to court for obtaining false signatures. The party also aims to educate the student body extensively on the problems with MCRI. Though obviously knowledgeable on the topics of MCRI and integration, Stenvig and Smith do not display the same initiative and proficiency in other aspects of student life, such as housing. Their platform fails to address many of the concerns students and student groups face on campus. DAAP’s strong ties to BAMN also are likely to polarize the assembly and the campus as a whole, and Stenvig and Smith appear to show little interest in representing students who do not strongly support affirmative action policies.
Similarly, former Maize Rage candidates Brian Chrzanowski and Nate Cesmebasi, who dropped out of the race, lacked the background and experience to mount a challenge to the Levine/Benavides ticket. The members did not have the initiative to address pressing student issues, and their condensed platform, along with their obvious lack of experience in MSA politics, shows that the candidates fail to realize the responsibility MSA officials have to address critical issues that concern students. The party was intent on engaging the silent majority of students disenchanted by campus politics, but students need real leadership and political decisiveness much more than they need an opinion poll.
The party’s campaign manager, Carl Pogoncheff, has been strongly criticized for statements made during last week’s Daily editorial board meeting. Pogoncheff voiced concern that Levine and Andrew Yahkind, the Students 4 Michigan Party candidate for the College of Literature Science and the Arts Student Government, are “from the same fraternity and ethnic background” and further, are both “white and Jewish.” Certainly, many students found these comments offensive, and the comments displayed a troubling lack of sensitivity. A more effective tactic would have been to focus on the lack of ideological diversity in student government. MSA has indeed come to resemble a spoils system — an elite inner-circle that rarely serves to represent the student body as a whole. Nevertheless, the election of Maize Rage — which itself is a fairly homogenous group — would have done little to bring more diversity to MSA.
Levine and Benavides have promised to continue their effort ensuring the rights of tenants in Ann Arbor. Levine, as general counsel of MSA, has shown he will fight for tenants’ rights. Levine has also worked closely with Student Legal Services to introduce a new division — scheduled to begin in fall 2005 — dedicated to fighting for tenants’ rights. Although we applaud Levine for his continuous efforts to combat the abuses of local landlords, he and Benavides would be more effective if they focused on mobilizing collective action against landlords, which could include the support and action of the University administration. They also should find a way to provide funding to a Public Interest Research Group In Michigan chapter on campus for a test period. A PIRGIM chapter would do much to lower the costs of textbooks, regain rights lost to landlords and assist with other student-oriented issues.
Levine and Benavides have also demonstrated a willingness to engage in political dialogue. Last fall, they approved funding for a massive voter mobilization effort on campus. This effort culminated with Michael Moore delivering a speech on campus in an attempt to curb apathy among young voters. Similar efforts will be necessary to combat MCRI in November 2006 and should start now.
Our endorsement of Levine and Benavides comes with serious reservations. Students 4 Michigan could have done more in mobilizing grassroots efforts against Proposal 2 and MCRI. Although Levine and Benavides both would fight for the rights of the discriminated, it is debatable how aggressive they would be in the ongoing battle, particularly in comparison to the DAAP candidates. Equal rights for gay and lesbian couples and preserving affirmative action are two vital issues, and the new MSA leadership must work to preserve the University’s progressive traditions.
Although we endorse Students 4 Michigan, competing parties should always provide a voice for other groups on campus. It is important that candidates from several parties continue to run in MSA elections to ensure a diverse range of political ideas. It is also important that DAAP retains its spots as representatives on MSA to continue to work against MCRI and any similar initiatives in the future.
The most important part of MSA elections is voter turnout. Considering the power and responsibilities of MSA, choosing the most competent candidates for their respective positions is your duty as a student.
Our reservations aside, Levine and Benavides are the pair of candidates who demonstrated the best organizational and administrative skills and the idealism necessary for the positions they seek. We hope that under Levine and Benavides’s leadership, MSA will continue to address issues important to students on campus and seek to resolve those issues in a manner benefiting students and consistent with the University’s traditions. While we harbor concerns, we nonetheless encourage students to vote for JESSE LEVINE and ALICIA BENAVIDES.