Conflict-free first presidential debate tackles consolidation concerns
What was supposed to be the first Student Government (SG) presidential debate ended up being more of a candidate debut without actual rebuttals and heated discussions.
The Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater was filled with about 80 people, varying from students to SG staff, who witnessed four tickets discuss initiatives they want to bring to USF as president and vice president.
The presidential and vice presidential candidates are Peter Radulovic and Thomas Knudsen, Trevor Martindale and Darnell Henderson, Claire Mitchell and Gustavo Spangher, and siblings Kuchari and Hyelampa Thlala Kolo.
The student body will vote March 2-5 at their respective polling locations across campuses, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. or online.
The candidates were given questions by the current student body presidents of USF’s three campuses – Britney Deas from Tampa, Jazzy Duarte from St. Pete and Isabelle Starner from Sarasota-Manatee.
The first half of the debate consisted of questions similar to an interview, including naming their strengths, weaknesses and biggest mistakes.
Thirty minutes into the debate, the first USF-related issue covered was consolidation, which has generated many questions about the future of all three campuses.
Even with a 90-second limit on responses, there was endless talk of consolidation. However, this didn’t stop the candidates from turning heads, inciting whispers and incurring snapping and applause from the audience.
Radulovic raised eyebrows with his candid remarks right off the bat.
“What makes me different from the other candidates is [while] I don’t want to discourage them because I know they are all good people, but I believe I can get things done more efficiently than anyone else here on the stage,” Radulovic said.
Despite energetic responses from each ticket as the mediators rolled through their questions, the candidates did not use any of their time to rebut each other’s statements.
Radulovic prompted more whispers from the audience throughout the debate with his blunt and straightforward responses.
Despite being an active student at the Tampa and Sarasota-Manatee campuses, Radulovic talked about the autonomy of each campus when asked about consolidation.
“I don’t think that one campus on the other side of Florida should be telling you what to do,” Radulovic said.
However, a big part of Radulovic and Knudsen’s platform is to create an “intercampus bus exchange system” for students to visit all three campuses. A similar idea was also advocated by Martindale and Henderson as part of their platform “4 All.”
Martindale and Henderson are running as the only ticket from the St. Pete campus. They have visited all three campuses, something the other candidates have yet to do.
“Consolidation is so substantial and so important,” Martindale said. “We really need to have initiatives outlined for consolidation. A lot of people are confused. A lot of people don’t know what’s going on, they don’t know how it’s going to affect everybody.”
Mitchell, an SG senator, and running mate Spangher plan to start a listening tour by visiting each campus this week, similar to what President Steven Currall did last fall.
Besides the consolidation discussion, the Kolo siblings brought other issues to light.
“I know all of us know about the sad situation of student loans and debt,” Kuchari said. “What our administration is also proposing is subsidizing housing.”
With an audience made up of mostly students, the initiative on subsidizing housing quickly caught the audience’s attention.
Kuchari’s comments on loans and debt were in conjunction with Hyelampa’s on black student enrollment. Hyelampa said the number of scholarships should be increased to combat the trending decline in black student enrollment at USF.
However, Martindale and Henderson’s comments in response to the decline in black student enrollment stunned the crowd as they stated that there are only five black First Time in College (FTIC) students at the St. Pete campus.
Although it was the second time that black student enrollment was mentioned, audible gasps and chatter still filled the room.
The audience showed the same amount of energy when Kuchari prided herself on being a black woman and running as an international ticket.
While Kuchari and Hyelampa are the only ticket solely comprised of international students, they also seemed to share microphone time the most equally.
Mitchell and Spangher were also collaborative on the microphone. Spangher’s time speaking showed that he was a definite crowd favorite. Although he is one of four candidates without SG experience, he drew the most applause.
Despite Spangher announcing his candidacy alongside Mitchell on Sunday afternoon, he was well versed in the information that was discussed, especially in regards to consolidation.
“St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee — we hear you,” Spangher said. “Consolidation is something that was mandated on us, however, this is not Tampa versus St. Pete. We are all one.”
As the debate came to a close, each ticket was given the chance to compliment their running mate when answering the debate’s final question, which seemed to gain responses both blunt and heartwarming from the candidates.
Knudsen and Radulovic seem to have an open and honest relationship, with Knudsen saying of Radulovic, “Some ideas are pretty good, but others are silly.” The crowd appeared shocked by Knudsen’s candid remarks.
On the opposite side of the stage, the siblings warmed the audience when Hyelampa commented on his and Kuchari’s working relationship.
“She dreams it and I think it out.”