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Thursday, August 11, 2022
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Presidential Hopeful Contests NYSSA Candidate's Eligibility

The race for the Student Association executive board and New York State Student Assembly delegation was less than a day old when controversy arose.

Jason Litwak, the presidential candidate from the UB Students' Party, filed a complaint against the SA Elections and Credentials Committee last Friday after learning that Yesenia Diaz, a NYSSA candidate from the Results Party, was placed on the ballot despite her absence from a candidate meeting Thursday, March 7. Attendance at the meeting was mandatory for all prospective candidates wishing placement on the ballot.

According to Litwak, Barbara Edsall, chair of the E&C committee, declared Diaz would not be on the ballot because she failed to attend the meeting. At that moment, Litwak said, SA President Christian Oliver, seeking re-election as a member of the Results Party, "leaned back in his chair" and "slyly" asked if Diaz could be excused based on "extenuating circumstances." Edsall allegedly said Diaz would need to present "dire" circumstances in order to be excused.

According to Diaz, she failed to attend the meeting because of a "personal mishap" which she discussed with Edsall during a meeting Friday morning at 9 a.m.

"I understand why [UB Students] would be concerned," said Diaz. "But if [Edsall] thought my reason was legitimate, I don't see what the problem is."

Oliver said he was surprised when Diaz did not show up at the meeting and speculated that Diaz was absent because there may have been confusion over what time the meeting was held.

"I assumed there must have been extenuating circumstances," said Oliver. "This was very uncharacteristic of her."

When Litwak learned Diaz was allowed on the ballot, he confronted Edsall, who said the candidate's excuse was valid, but would not tell Litwak what Diaz's excuse was. Litwak, in turn, was outraged.

"It was my understanding that it was mandatory that all candidates on the ballot be present at the meeting," said Litwak. "This girl was not there . she does not deserve to be put on the ballot."

Diaz said Litwak never personally asked her why she was not present at the meeting and that her absence was "none of his business." "If it was anyone's business," said Diaz, "it would be Barbara's."

" They (the UB Students' Party) just want to make everything more complicated and stress me out," said Diaz.

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After multiple attempts to contact her, Edsall was finally reached Sunday night. Edsall told The Spectrum that Diaz was unable to attend the meeting because she was involved in a car accident and that barring Diaz from the ballot would have been unfair.

Although Diaz provided no documentation of the accident, Edsall said the candidate was "shaken up" when they spoke, and was confident Diaz will present documentation when they meet with SWJ.

"Policy has to be flexible enough to accommodate extenuating circumstances," said Edsall.

She said the E&C committee decided not to release Diaz's excuse for missing the meeting because "it was a legitimate concern" and the committee "didn't want to make a huge deal out of it."

Litwak believes Edsall's decision was influenced by pressure from the incumbent Results Party. Edsall was appointed by the Personnel and Appointments Committee composed of the current SA executive board, including presidential hopeful Oliver, plus an SA senator and an assembly member. The SA Assembly approved her appointment.

"Every sense of fair play has been completely violated by the Results Party," said Litwak. "They're trying to win this election using shady means and they have egregious disrespect for the rules."

Oliver refuted Litwak's allegations, which he described as "ludicrous." He said the only conversation he and Edsall shared pertaining to Diaz's absence concerned when Edsall would know if Diaz would be allowed on the ballot.

"This is an attempt to deface me," said Oliver. "They never contacted me or anyone else about the accusations they've made."

Edsall denied ever being pressured by the Results Party to act in their favor, saying her job is to ensure that the elections are fair and all candidates are given equal opportunities.

"Who wins is no consequence to me," she said. "I have no personal stake in it."

SWJ Justice Trevor Torcello said the matter concerning Diaz would be resolved "as soon as humanly possible" so it will not interfere with the election.

"This is going to be done before the end of the week," said Torcello. "We don't want to cause a mess."

SA Vice President Joshua Korman called into question the UB Students' Party's campaign ethics, noting that the party posted campaign fliers almost immediately after the meeting. According to election guidelines, candidates are not allowed to undergo any form of campaigning prior to their official placement on the ballot. UB Students could be in violation of this rule since they created fliers before the meeting took place.

Litwak said the fliers were made off campus at a Kinko's shortly before the meeting and remained in his bag until approximately 20 minutes after the meeting concluded, at which point they could legally begin their campaign.

"We have respected all the rules of the election," said Litwak.

Litwak accused Korman of advising Edsall against allowing his party to host a town-hall-style meeting, where students could attend and ask questions about their party's platform. When he approached Edsall with this idea, he said Korman was "standing over her shoulder, to stifle any idea of having a forum."

"Obviously [Edsall] had bowed down to pressure within the current administration," said Litwak.

Korman denied ever sabotaging the UB Students' Party attempts to organize a forum and said he was only curious about the request since no one had ever made it before. He said Edsall denied the request because the forum would have been exclusive, denying the Results Party an equal opportunity to express their views to students.

"If they question my integrity in this matter I have to turn around and question them in trying to win through SWJ and not through the polls," said Korman.

Edsall said she did not consult with Korman about allowing the UB Students' Party to host their forum and all her decisions are made in collaboration with the E&C committee. She said Korman has never been present at any of the committees meetings.

Edsall said she denied the UB Students' Party their town meeting request because "time constraints" would prohibit both parties from having exclusive forums. She told The Spectrum Sunday night that on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday there would be public forums open to students at which all candidates would be present to give statements.

In addition, Edsall said she is seeking to organize an SA-sponsored debate in the Student Union so "all students would have access to the candidates."

Litwak further criticized the lack of election coverage in Visions and on the SA Web site, where he wished to have party profiles and platforms featured. Korman said Visions coverage was "physically impossible" because the magazine was printed the Wednesday before the mandatory meeting where student candidacy is made official.

SA was also concerned that publishing the Results Party platform in a magazine run by their administration would provide the party an unfair advantage. At the Thursday meeting, Korman called for a unanimous vote among the candidates to approve posting party platforms on the Web site. Gregory Haynes, the NYSSA candidate running independent of a party, dissented.

"[Haynes] thought the Web site would be biased toward the Results and it was not appropriate," said Korman.

Litwak characterized SA as having a "revolving door" policy and said control over the student government is distributed amongst the same small "circle" of people.

"They have more backroom dealings than Tammany Hall," said Litwak.

The president accused the UB Students' Party of trying to "win by any means," noting that they did not address their concerns with the SA administration prior to the election period. He said Litwak's allegations have given SA "a black eye."

"I hate seeing that kind of politics in student government," said Oliver. "It hasn't happened in the four years I've been here."



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