The creation of the Penny Party, a group with a unified platform and pooled campaigning resources, has added a twist to this year’s College Council (CC) elections, which are generally characterized by independent student candidates vying for seats to represent their class in Student Government (SG).
SG is comprised of an Executive Slate and two deliberative bodies: the Graduate Council, comprised of a graduate student representative from each year and each division of study, and the College Council, elected annually with four representatives from each class.
Only three fourth-years are seeking the four open seats for their class.
“Because College Council members play such an important role in the effectiveness of SG, I sincerely hope that the College student body will elect members who really plan on making a difference,” said fourth-year David Courchaine, SG’s Vice President for Student Affairs.
The Penny Party, a collaboration of 12 candidates across all four years with a unified seven-point platform, is a new strategy in College Council elections usually characterized by independent candidates championing a diverse set of platforms.
The group was organized by third-year Scott Duncombe with assistance from fourth-year Phil Caruso, who served on the Executive Slate last year but narrowly lost his bid to become SG President in a heated spring election.
“I wanted to run as a political party with the idea that we had people who would come in and actually do something,” said Duncombe. “I tried to find people I knew would really work, who would make SG a high priority, and who hadn’t been sucked up with other commitments in the RSO community.”
Duncombe also stressed that if the entire coalition were elected, having an already united group of representatives as the majority of CC would increase the group’s efficiency.
“If we were able to get enough elected for a majority, by having a group that was really committed, we would have a better understanding of the issues, would be able to talk outside of the meetings, and the Council won’t waffle as much,” said Duncombe, who would likely become the chair of the council if the Penny Party wins a majority of the seats.
Some, however, have questioned whether SG is the appropriate arena for political parties, and if a Penny Party sweep could marginalize those elected from outside the party.
“When you start planning the alignment of SG members on a range of issues, other opinions—perhaps more correct opinions—may be drowned out,” said Kyle Lee, an independent third-year candidate, in an e-mail interview. “The student body deserves four totally objective members from each class who are elected based on what they personally believe, not because they belong to some kind of political powerhouse.”
Second-year candidate Ryan Kaminski also had some hesitations about the Penny Party.
“While some candidates promote their uniqueness within…the Penny Party in wanting to work with the administration, promote campus environmentalism, or demand action on genocide, I would hope second-year voters would take such things as a given with their candidates for Student Government, and ask how likely their representatives can actually work to solve these very important problems,” Kaminski said in an e-mail interview.
The Penny Party, however, deflected the notion that alternative ideas might be drowned out.
“I personally think that having a cohesive body of thought focused on specific goals early in the year will allow CC to produce visible and fast results,” Caruso said. He added that he has already had positive discussions with the Executive Slate about the effort to build a comprehensive party.
Outside of the politics of the Penny Party reside some of the motivated, independent, and sometimes eccentric campaigns for which CC races are generally known. Nikola Pejnovic, a second-year candidate, is listed on the ballot as “Croatian Nik,” and has taken out a series of campaign ads on Facebook.
“People who know me know I am Croatian, but do not necessarily know my last name,” Pejnovic said. “Even my roommate cannot pronounce it without trying very hard.”
Zach Binney, who also ran a semi-serious campaign for Executive Slate last spring, is seeking a position as a third-year representative. True to form, his candidate statement extols his lack of experience and independence from special interests—including those of his constituents.
But, Binney insists, his candidacy isn’t a joke.
“I saw how petty squabbling and debate over issues with little to no bearing on students’ lives dominated CC last year, and I’m determined to do my part to change it,” said Binney by e-mail.
Other independent candidates advocate issues particularly significant to them. For instance, second-year Alexis Reyes is pushing for a big-speaker fund to attract notable—and expensive—speakers to campus.
Often lost in the campaign fervor are first-year candidates, who struggle not just to make a name for themselves before the election, but to understand the issues and concerns of a constituency still finding their way around the University.
“Although it’s early to decipher what the major issues will be for our class, I know that many of my friends in Shoreland…would like the bus system improved,” said first-year Hilary Fruitman by e-mail. “I am excited to see how the rest of the campaign goes and to learn more about the concerns of the first-years on campus.”
Students can vote and read candidate statements online at sg.uchicago.edu. The polls will be open from 9 a.m. Tuesday until 5 p.m. Thursday. A tabling event for voters to meet candidates is scheduled Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the main quad in front of Cobb.