The Commentator

Volume 67, Issue 12
May 18, 2003
Iyar 5763
 

 

 

 

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Volume 67, Issue 12

Schachter Wins a Contentious Election
by Chaim Orent and Commentator Staff

On April 10, the Yeshiva student body elected Yisrael “Yummy” Schachter as a write-in candidate for Yeshiva Student Union (YSU) President and chose officials for the other student governmental organizations. This year’s campaign was marred by shifting electoral tickets, spiteful campaign tactics, and the formation of polarized political camps.  Moreover, the YSU canvassing committee, responsible for policing the campaign, this time was unable to rein in the harshness and indiscretions. As Gennady Gelman, co-chair of the canvassing committee, summed it up: “If in most elections the candidates attempt to win, in this one they expended all their efforts trying to make the others lose.” Another student leader reflected, “This was a very, for lack of a better word, dirty election.”

The election for YSU president, the most powerful of the positions, proved controversial both with respect to the identity of the candidates and the way the candidates campaigned. Three candidates collected enough signatures to earn a place on the official ballot: Yitz Glass, head of peer counseling; Amir Lehrer, president of the Canada Club; and Yaakov Green, YSU vice president. Schachter, who had organized the Chanukah concert and Operation Torah Shield, was running for YSU vice president against outgoing YSU Secretary Matt Zimmelman.

The landscape shifted considerably, however, when Green dropped out of the running and Schachter decided to run for president as a write-in. The two events were linked. Since Green plans to graduate after only next year’s fall semester, had he been elected President he would have vacated the position of YSU President to the then-YSU Vice President. According to the YSU Constitution, “if the Student Union President is permanently unable to perform his duties or is removed from office before March 1, the Student Union Vice President shall succeed to the Student Union Presidency, and an election for a new Student Union Vice President shall be held within two weeks.” Before Green’s withdrawing, he and Schachter had discussed alternatives for Green transferring power to Schachter in the event that Schachter were also elected as vice president. Other candidates were infuriated by these conversations, which they regarded as collusion.

Schachter’s departure from the vice-presidential race opened a spot for Schachter’s friend, Jona Rechnitz, to run a write-in campaign against Zimmelman for the post. Rechnitz had previously been involved in the campaign as a member of the canvassing committee. “Many of the candidates were from the same chevra and worked well together already,” said Schachter. “Zimmelman was the only exception. I pushed Jona to run.” Some students have come to refer to Schachter’s team of active friends, which also includes SSSBSA president-elect Eli Renov, as “the mafia.”

The campaign itself featured at least three highly charged incidents related to the permissibility and handling of promotional signage. One of Lehrer’s supporters, Yehoshua Friedman, advertised free access to a website that he administers, under the username and password vote/lehrer. Since Friedman normally charges $1 for access to the website, this offer could potentially have put the Lehrer campaign over budget. Moreover, although the sign was officially approved, most of the posted copies did not feature the stamp of the canvassing committee, prompting a confrontational inquiry from Rechnitz, at that point still a member of the canvassing committee. Lehrer denied knowledge of any wrongdoing.

Rechnitz himself was subsequently nearly disqualified from the election over his ticketing with Schachter, one of the election’s most serious violations. According to the YSU Constitution, “No candidate may run on a ticket or otherwise campaign jointly with any other candidate for any Student Union position.” This statute applied equally to write-in candidates as to official candidates, as the instructions distributed by Canvassing Committee co-chair Danny Ackerman explicitly delineated. Nonetheless, when Rechnitz and Schachter presented Ackerman with a joint sign, Ackerman mistakenly approved it, and the signs were posted around campus for a few hours. Although committee co-chair Gennady Gelman and YSU president Shai Barnea initially sought to disqualify the two candidates, they ultimately absolved them, since the ticketing was based on mistaken information. The signs were taken down.

The next day, YSU Vice Presidential candidate Matt Zimmelman, running alone on the ballot, was nearly disqualified as well. Having served this year as Executive Council Treasurer, Zimmelman entered Rubin lounge to find the new, glass-encased YSU bulletin board covered with signs for his opponent, Rechnitz. As a member of the YSU board, he was repeatedly told to remove any signs obscuring the election posters inside, but as a candidate, tearing down opponents’ signs could get him disqualified. As Zimmelman unlocked the casing to see if any significant YSU signs were being obscured, a single sign came loose. What he did then is disputed. Zimmelman says the sign may have fallen off or not—he doesn’t recall.

Several of Zimmelman’s friends tried to approach the canvassing committee; after a considerable time period, they presented the argument that whether Zimmelman tore the sign down or not, he could not be punished—he was, after all, supposed to remove signs from the board anyway. Rechnitz was confused; Gelman had told him Zimmelman was definitely out; now he heard otherwise. After meeting with Gelman again in the witness’ room, Gelman again agreed that Zimmelman should be out of the race, and again he changed his mind. Rechnitz believes that there was a double standard enforced by Barnea when it came to the vice-presidential election. Zimmelman went on to win the vice-presidency.

One final controversy concerned the usage of stickers for Schachter and Rechnitz’s write-in campaign on election day. In previous years, write-in candidates were allowed to hand out stickers so that voters could apply them to the ballot instead of writing actual names in. Some argued the stickers gave the write-in candidate a psychological advantage. They said that if a voter has a sticker in their hand that’s mean to be used, he would want to use it, and that, despite past traditions, stickers defeat the purpose of the term “write-in.” Those who argued from the point of precedent won out in the end, but handing out stickers or any of the candidates’ paraphernalia inside of the Morgenstern lounge and entranceway was still prohibited in the election-day rules sent out by Gelman to all candidates very early the next morning.

Yet Glass claims to have seen individuals sent by Schachter to hand out stickers during the election inside of Morgenstern lounge. Canvassing Committee member Gavriel Butler, who was in Morg lounge for nearly the entire day, denied the charge: “I never saw anyone handing anything out in Morg the entire time.” One student, Ayal Furst, made a disturbing accusation. Taking a break from helping Schachter’s campaign outside, he entered Morgenstern lounge to check on the news. Glass followed him inside, confronted him with a member of the canvassing committee, and asked him to empty his pockets. Schachter stickers which he was giving out outside were among what was emptied. A supporter for Glass counter-claims that he did actually see Furst handing out stickers in Morgentern Lounge, and that the pillars blocked the lines of sight of most people who were there.

Along with the previous claim, Glass also tried to argue in the Student Court that ballots reading “Yummy” instead of “Yummy Schachter” should be disqualified. Though election rules do say that “The name that is written in must be the write-in candidate’s full name,” this year’s chaos, many individuals pointed out, kept Gelman from posting the rules around the school so the student body could see them. Even supporters of Lehrer felt that the Student Court claims shouldn’t be taken seriously. Student Court has refused to hear ballot issue, but may hear the sticker allegations after considering them further.

Much of the confusion might have been avoided had the canvassing committee presented clear, authoritative leadership from the outset of the election. The committee, responsible for managing all facets of the election, was initially headed solely by Ackerman, who was chosen by the YSU executive council. Barnea, however, eventually unilaterally posted Gelman into the position, first as a co-chair, and then, after Ackerman resigned over the ticketing fiasco, as the sole chair. “It was very clear,” charged one canvassing committee member, “that Gennady was Shai’s pawn,” though he offered no explanation for why Shai wanted control over the elections. Rechnitz partially attributes his resignation from the canvassing committee to his accusation that Barnea was controlling the election. When Barnea sought to discipline Rechnitz and Schachter for ticketing, Rechnitz threatened to impeach Barnea on the grounds that his direct involvement in election affairs was unconstitutional.

Gelman believes that the canvassing committee could have controlled the election more effectively had its rules been explicitly codified in the YSU Constitution. “Everyone who runs is expected to know the Constitution, but it refers only to how the members of the committee are chosen, not how the committee operates. Each year the committee makes its own rules, but practically the candidates follow them only if they choose to.” Ackerman had distributed a brief list of campaign rules at the beginning of the week, but they proved to be too vague. In addition, Gelman wishes that the committee would have the power to discipline candidates in ways other than disqualification, such as warning candidates or allowing them to remain on the ballot but prohibiting them from campaigning further.

After the elections, president-elect Schachter made a deliberate effort to include those who lost. “The first thing I did when I won was call everyone who lost and put him in charge of a committee for next year,” explained Schachter. “That’s the first step towards unification of the school – to make sure that everyone is represented.” Amir Lehrer was offered the co-chairmanship of the Student Life Committee, which serves as a liaison between the school and the student body, along with Yaakov Green. Joshua Haller, Lehrer’s roommate, who lost the Junior Class presidential election, is running a new student activity early next year. The reality of working relationships precludes the divisiveness that plagued this year’s election, and just about all candidates involved thought it best to move beyond the past and prepare for next fall.

 


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