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Candidates connect with crowd in VP debate

Candidates Alexis Sacasas (left) and Mike Malanga spoke about campus safety and raising school pride in Monday night’s debate in the Marshall Student Center. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

 

A crowd of about 150 welcomed this year’s candidates to the Student Government (SG) vice presidential debate in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater on Monday night. As the applause died down, each individual was introduced. 

Mike Malanga, a senator in the College of Business, is running alongside Andy Rodriguez, the current SG Senate president.

His opponent, Alexis Sacasas, recently stepped down as ranking justice of the SG Supreme Court, and is running alongside Sammy Hamed, who also recently stepped down from his position in the Supreme Court to run in the election.

The audience observed a moment of silence for four young men who died at this time last year, and soon afterward the debate began. The candidates opened with introductory statements, each reflecting the candidate to unfold in the coming debate.

Sacasas emphasized her love of USF and her investment in it. Her running mate, she said, is her best friend.

“We want to see this university shine, and we want to be the leaders that take you there,” she said. 

Malanga spoke about his engagement with the USF community and involvement in the Green and Gold Guides. He joked about his New Jersey roots.

“I’m from New Jersey,” he said. “Most of my friends tell me that makes me an international student.”

When cheering from each campaign died down again, the questions began. One student asked what differentiated each platform, as many have speculated that each campaign pushes for the same things.

Sacasas pointed out that she and Hamed have already begun acting on the plans of their administration, such as having spoken with Congresswoman Kathy Castor. “Security, integrity, growth and you,” Sacasas emphasized, are the most important aspects of their platform. “The difference is … our platform’s already in progress. It’s an actual plan that’s already in the process of being utilized.”

Malanga, however, disagreed that the platforms were similar at all. He spoke about his campaign’s ambition for a student-funded foundation.

This foundation “will be all about making sure student voices are heard in the spending process,” he said.  

Each campaign has weighed in heavily on the subject of campus safety. The vice presidential candidates spoke on their respective plans to address student safety.

Sacasas spoke about her personal concern for the safety of her sorority sisters and all of her friends. 

“Light(ing) up this campus,” she said, to cheers from her campaign. “That’s not enough. We want to make sure people feel safe. … that’s definitely a priority for Sammy and I.” 

Her opponent also expressed concern for friends and fellow students. Malanga stated personal relationships with legislators — which he said he and Rodriguez have from their experience in the SG Senate — will encourage those legislators to advocate to the Tampa Bay Police Department on behalf of USF.

“It’s about making people feel safe — all of the time,” he added.

As discussed at last week’s presidential debate, the issue of relating to Greeks and non-Greeks came up, as Sacasas is Greek and Malanga is not.

The Zeta Tau Alpha sister emphasized her long academic history before joining a Greek organization. She also pointed out, while she is grateful to Greek, it is just that — an organization.

“They don’t define me,” she said. “I’m also an active member of this campus.”

Malanga, who is not affiliated with Greek life, said he is here to represent students. He said he and Rodriguez can relate to every student.

“I don’t think that there’s a difference between Greek and non-Greek students,” he said, and was greeted with cheers and snapping from the audience.

Closing statements cemented the candidates’ positions and personalities for the audience. Uproarious applause came from supporters of both campaigns, echoing throughout the Oval Theater when the candidates finished speaking.

Voting begins the morning of Feb. 16, and students can vote online at sg.usf.edu/vote or at polling stations across campus.