Sam McMahon for president
The Spectrum's official endorsement
It would be a complete and utter failure for the student body to not elect Sam McMahon as the Student Association president.
In a special election brought forth by yet another scandal, this decision is vitally important. It is important for restoring SA from its current state of dysfunction, for altering its trajectory for the future, for repairing its relationship with the students.
There is no better person for this task right now than McMahon.
And to be perfectly blunt, it's not even close.
Given the recent history of SA, this is a time when expectations are low. But in our endorsements, McMahon proved to be one of the most impressive candidates we have seen in years. He was articulate about his platform, transparent in his plans for the year and more experienced than any of his opponents.
As a fifth-year senior studying aerospace engineering, he has maintained strong involvement with SA since his junior year - which has given him an extensive understanding of how our student government works. The breadth and depth of his experience makes him not only a more qualified candidate than his opponents, but someone with a more realistic and practical vision for the direction he wants SA to go.
McMahon began his SA career working as office personnel. This experience leaves him well equipped at knowing how to deal with students and knowledgeable of how SA interacts with the community. He was also an event staff lieutenant, which leaves him well practiced at working with the clubs and the Entertainment Department.
The most important aspect of his experience, however, is his involvement in SA this summer. McMahon was the only full-time employed student in SA; he worked closely with professional staff and with all the departments.
The summer is a pivotal time for SA - it is the transitional period when all the learning takes place for those preparing for their new positions. Unlike his opponents, McMahon was around for that period of development and training. And currently, he is the senior office manager.
One of the biggest points he makes in his campaign platform is that given the state of SA - which is in need of immediate and substantial repair - it will take someone who is familiar with the way SA functions to rebuild the organization. It will take someone who knows what's wrong with SA, who knows what the problem is and has a concrete idea for how he or she is going to fix it.
For the common student, however, who is not involved with SA and isn't aware of how it operates or what it does, the concern regarding student government is how it can actually make a difference in his or her college experience.
For too long we have heard SA presidential hopefuls base their campaigns on abstractions - facilitating student involvement, building a sense of community - and for too long this has manifested in empty campaign promises.
What McMahon has that distinguishes him from the other candidates is his experience and a series of concrete goals that are achievable. What we like in McMahon is a sense of pragmatism - a belief in the efficacy of working for what works.
Aside from some internal structural changes McMahon is interested in ascertaining - including instituting a two-thirds majority approval needed within the e-board for all hiring and firing for SA positions - he has two particular concrete goals for what the association can provide to students to improve their experiences this year.
He wants to collaborate with a taxi service to provide subsidized cab rides for students. For a long time now, there has been much dialogue around campus about ways the university can increase student safety. This initiative will allow students to explore Buffalo - in areas that the UB Stampede does not go to - in a more cost-efficient way, while providing students a safe outlet for transportation to and from various locations.
But it should be understood that this is not for wherever, whenever. McMahon hopes to have SA cover a 10 percent discount on cab rides under $100 on Friday and Saturday nights.
He also wants to establish a free airport shuttle service around breaks. There are many UB students who are not from Western New York and this initiative is a way to provide students without cars access to transportation to and from the airport. Even for the students who do have cars, this will help; they will not have to pay for parking at the airport while they are away on break.
These proposals may seem small to some, but they are basic and concrete, and most of all, feasible - which is exactly the type of ideas that need to come out of SA right now. A new president should not be attempting to move heaven and earth at the moment, but rather, should focus on a politics of what's possible.
Much of what impresses us about McMahon - his preparation for the role, his professionalism and his common sense approach - is what we should expect from our student leaders.
We are sure that Mohammad Alwahaidy, Kyle Davis, Jessica Honan, James Lopez, Amber Potter and Michael Simons are all good people, but none are qualified or prepared to be president.
Only McMahon, Alwahaidy and Honan showed up for our endorsements. The latter two did not demonstrate the knowledge of SA nor did they understand the direction they would like to take the organization the way McMahon did.
Alwahaidy proposed working to install heating at bus stops on campus and cutting the presidential stipend substantially. But there are problems with his proposals.
Heated bus stops would certainly be nice during Buffalo's brutal winters, and we strongly advocate for them, but this idea came around long before Alwahaidy emerged. In fact, Nick Johns proposed this same idea in March and it was as true then as it is now that the university has been planning to implement heated bus stops independent of SA.
In other words, heated bus stops will likely be installed regardless of Alwahaidy's involvement.
And lowering the presidential stipend in order to allocate the remaining funds to go to clubs is a worthwhile venture in theory, but in reality, it is a superficial campaign promise - not to mention he didn't have a clear plan for where that money would go. As exorbitant as the presidential stipend is, it doesn't need to be reduced that dramatically, and more than anything else, we would rather see a president really earn his or her salary.
The president, however, does not even have the authority to make such a decision alone. So Alwahaidy's proposal seems more like a campaign ploy than an inspired idea from someone willing to do the job for less pay.
And speaking of fiscal matters, when we asked him what made him qualified to manage such a large amount of money - $4.1 million - he actually told us that he wasn't. Considering the financial blunders of our last president who lacked experience, would that really be the route we would want to take again?
Honan conveys decency in her demeanor and sincerity in her language; we have no doubt that her candidacy emanates from earnest ambitions - though she has no experience with SA. None. And during a period of confusion and uncertainty, this is not the time to throw someone in who has no idea how the institution of SA really operates.
Much like past candidates, she evoked a sense of the need for community engagement and facilitating an atmosphere of inclusion, though she didn't outline any tangible objectives for how to improve the lives of students.
She talked about "simplifying everything" in SA and "breaking down a complex system" in order to increase efficiency, but she doesn't know the system. She even admitted to us that she has yet to finish reading the entire SA constitution. And it goes without saying that every SA president should be intimately familiar with the constitution.
We commend her willingness to get active in student government and to be engaged in the process, but generally, you don't start at the top - you work your way up from the bottom.
Unfortunately, however, SA is now at its bottom. Plagued by recurring scandals, weakened by dissension within the ranks and consistently disparaged by students as ineffective, SA has become an entity not taken seriously; and now, it is at an important crossroads.
This can either become a time to change what has long been a broken system or it can become a repetition of elections past. We feel strongly that the students should now elect a president capable of reinventing SA and its image.
It would be a shame to elect someone who would only reinforce the perspective of SA that is already widely accepted around campus - that it is an island unto itself and works only for itself.
Between all the options available, Sam McMahon is most likely to alter this common perception through concrete action and establishing a higher maturity level within our student government.
We don't necessarily agree with everything he said to us; in fact, we strongly disagree with his assertion that SA would not benefit from an advisory board to provide guidance to the e-board periodically throughout the year. We all agree, however, that he is the best candidate running.
SA's overwhelming pattern of impropriety does not derive solely from its personnel makeup, from unqualified people being thrust into office. There are structural problems that have been facilitating the misconduct and mistakes pervasive throughout SA for some time now.
With different procedural ideas aside, there is a lot we like about McMahon, and all evidence suggests he the finest candidate of the bunch.
It is essential that we elect the most qualified and capable person to propel SA through stormy waters. With the current state of SA being as bleak as it is, and with recent history giving us no reason to suspect that time will heal the wounds, we need a leader able to transcend the petty politics that permeate our student government.
It is essential that we don't allow an important election to become another popularity contest.
The integrity of what happens with the $3.7 million accumulated from all undergraduate student activity fees is at stake.
As students head to the polls this week, we want to remind them that this all matters and that elections have consequences. Consider the potential consequences of your vote and think if you are willing to risk SA being damaged by another failed presidency.
You don't want that and we don't want that. So in the coming days, make sure you don't neglect an important communal responsibility; enter those voting booths in the Student Union Theatre and vote with awareness of what you're doing.
Vote for Sam McMahon.