In an attempt to better inform voters for the upcoming Student Union (SU) election, the Board of Elections (BOE) held a debate, open to all students, between the two tickets that passed the primaries. The debate, which took place on Tuesday, May 1 in the school library, was organized and moderated by BOE Chairman and senior Bumsoo Kim in conjunction with The Spectator’s Editors-in-Chief juniors Leopold Spohngellert and Adam Schorin.
Presidential candidate junior Adam Lieber and his running mate sophomore Tahia Islam debated their platforms and policies with junior Calvin Ng and sophomore Edward Zilberbrand, the opposing ticket. The event was part of the BOE’s effort to increase voter turnout this year, along with social media campaigning and an additional voting booth. Around 50 students attended the one-hour debate. This was the first debate to happen in four years, and was made available to students via YouTube and The Spectator’s website (stuyspectator.com). The video currently has over 700 views.
The candidates were seated at separate tables, with a podium and microphone between the two. The candidate, his running mate, or the ticket, would stand up at the stand to answer the questions. Each candidate had two minutes to respond per question, with extensions given for particular questions.
The debate began with opening statements from both candidates, outlining their respective platforms. Ng focused on his record as SU Special Events Coordinator under SU President Edward Cho, and promised to promote school unity and to change the school dress code by compromising with the administration. He also discussed the idea of implementing a new dress code policy in which students are allowed to wear dresses or shorts that follow either the current fingertip-length rule or a new midway-through-the-thigh addition, whichever is shorter to account for discrepancies in the policy’s current implementation. Ng also proposed to reform the long-standing free period rule only allowing students to be on the first, second or fifth floors through open communication with the administration.
In his statement, Lieber criticized the current SU administration for lack of action on the school’s major issues and called his own lack of experience in the SU a sign of fresh ideas and new perspectives. Lieber mentioned his proposed SU YouTube channel, a one-minute grace period for students travelling to or from the 10th floor, and a college fair where students could speak to Stuyvesant alumni representing their colleges.
The first question posed to the candidates asked what they would do if negotiations with the school administration, in this case specifically regarding students’ ability to exit the building during their free periods, broke down. Ng said he would support a student petition, and work to spread awareness among the candidates. However, Ng considered it necessary to understand the administration’s reasons for prohibiting out to lunch during free periods, and said he believed that the school would have to accept it. Lieber also supported the use of student petitions, but included the use of what he called “teacher endorsements,” which would allow teachers to weigh in on the issue in support of the students.
The candidates seemed to have similar answers to many of the questions, often repeating points at the podium. However, the most significant difference between the candidates came when they were asked of their opinion of the current administration’s record. Lieber and Islam both articulated a strong critique of the Cho administration, suggesting they were only good at planning events. “They are aesthetically nice, they have streamers, they decorate the lunchroom,” Islam said. “However, we do not admire how no one attends these events.” Islam singled out Zilberbrand, the current Sophomore Caucus Vice President, saying that no change has come under his watch. Lieber also suggested that the Cho administration has made no effort to reach out to the student body.
Ng and Zilberbrand responded by praising the SU’s work on events such as SING! and Junior Prom. They suggested that the Cho administration had made an effort to reach out to the student body, but apathy from the school prevented the enthusiasm needed between the government and the students. Zilberbrand pointed out that there was “a lack of dedication” from some members of the administration, who had not attended daily meetings as diligently as he and Ng would have liked, he said.
The final questions from the moderators addressed what changes Ng or Lieber would make to the government, SU constitution, and school as SU presidents. Both supported a larger student government, with more departments to focus on each issue. Ng proposed eliminating the position of Freshman Caucus President and Vice President, due to the lack of time for freshmen to get to know each other prior to elections. “What I would advise instead is a Freshman Advisory Council for the Sophomore President,” Ng said, which would work with the Sophomore Caucus on the issues that affect underclassmen.
After forty minutes of moderated questions, candidates were able to answer questions from the audience. These concerned how they planned to bring about their promises, which both candidates responded to with plans to communicate with the administration and promote student involvement.
Despite a relatively low turnout, the debate may prove to be an important step in the BOE’s campaign to familiarize the student body with the election process and educate it on its candidates. With a twelve percent increase in primary voting numbers, the BOE hopes that, with the help of this debate, the trend spreads to the general elections, to be held on Friday, May 18.
Candidates expressed satisfaction with the way the debate was organized.
“Although turnout was not tremendous, I feel as though the debate legitimized the SU elections,” Islam said. “For once, we could talk about our policies in a professional light for all of the student body to see. It’s a great way for students to make informed decisions and remain involved throughout the process. Hopefully, the debate showed everyone that the SU can become an important factor in Stuyvesant […] and provide a voice, rather than remain in the background.”
The opposing ticket agreed. “The debate was a great experience and ran extremely well for its first time. It’s something that should happen every year from now on. Despite not having the greatest turnout, I’m sure that next year more students will come and the students that came this year got the information they wanted,” Zilberbrand said. “The elections showed the entire school that the SU does mean something, and I feel as if that’s a success in and of itself.”