As runoff campaign ends, grievances gain traction

By Alex Rosenthal, MANAGING EDITOR
On March 5, 2014

 

The night before the final day of voting in the runoff election for student body president starts, allegations against both candidates’ campaigning procedures heated up.

Out of the nine grievances against the candidates for student body president that were filed Friday, five were deemed to have enough merit to be followed up with a hearing by the Election Rules Commission (ERC) on Tuesday.

Four of the new grievances were filed against Jean Cocco, who the ERC has already found in violation of two minor violations for his campaign, and one against Brandi Arnold, who already had a grievance filed against her last week, but had the grievance cleared by the ERC.

Any candidate found by the ERC to have committed three minor violations or one major violation will be disqualified from the election.

Cocco said he was worried about being potentially disqualified, but would continue to campaign.

He said he is appealing the rulings of the ERC on the two earlier violations, which he said contained typos, errors and lacked necessary signatures, to the Supreme Court, where he said he hoped he could get a “fair hearing.”

“There have been procedural errors … questioning verbiage and how (the grievances) were assessed,” he said. “That’s why I want to appeal them.”

Even Arnold said she was tired of the grievance procedures.

“Grievances aren’t how student body presidents should be elected,” she said. “I wish they weren’t filed, but they need to be.”

The grievances filed against the Cocco campaign Friday included potential violations ranging from using former Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist as a “celebrity endorsement” on campaign material to distributing campaign material without the proper link to the Student Government website and passive campaigning done at an SG polling station.

Though Cocco didn’t attend the hearings due to the SG Senate meeting taking place one floor above the room the hearings were held in the Marshall Student Center, Joana Rabassa, Cocco’s campaign advisor, spoke on his behalf.

The first of the grievances filed against Cocco, all filed by Sidney Resmondo from Arnold’s campaign, focused on the use of Crist as a celebrity endorsement on campaign material.

While Crist visited campus Thursday to speak in support of Cocco’s campaign, Resmondo’s complaint was not that he came and supported Cocco publicly, but that Cocco’s campaign used photos of Crist with Cocco on social media in order to get students to attend Crist’s speech and vote for Cocco.

Resmondo said using the experience and support of a celebrity, who she said Crist would be considered as in Florida, is “unethical and unjust” as students should campaign based on their own experience and merit.

Rabassa said Crist was not a celebrity, but an attorney, politician and private citizen. She said celebrity is a “vague term,” and didn’t consider Crist as such because he is not currently in office.

Rather, she said, Crist is a mentor who has known Cocco for several years since Cocco helped with his early days of campaigning, qualifying Cocco’s merit.

A student body president, Rabassa said, needs to be able to get students involved, and that is what the campaign tried to do.

“As you can see, we have 40,000 students on our campus and less than 10,000 vote,” Rabassa said. “Anything that can be used as any kind of push to get students involved is what needs to be done.”

Resmondo also filed a grievance stating Cocco violated campaign rules by not including the usf.edu/vote link for students to vote on a promotional video on YouTube that was shared on social media.

Cocco’s video didn’t use the link in the actual video or in any of the posts on social media, Resmondo said. Rabassa said the link was in the video’s description section on the YouTube page.

Rabassa said the link in the description is within campaigning procedures, but the head of the ERC and supervisor of elections, Sayf Hassouneh, said the link is not the actual campaign material itself — the video.

In another grievance against the Cocco campaign, in which an image was shared through the campaign’s Facebook page but did not have a voting link, Rabassa provided an unusual defense: The Facebook page may have been hacked as it gained a significant number of Facebook likes by people from Turkey.

Rabassa said the page had more than 5,000 likes from Turkey. At the time of print, the page had 5,977 likes.

“We have no way of knowing why there is so much activity on it coming from the Middle East and overseas,” she said. “With that being said, we are trying to figure out the technical end of it.”12

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