Not Much Uncovered in First UPUA Debate
The stage was set last night in Alumni Hall, as all three tickets vying for the UPUA Presidency tried to convince the student audience before them that they were the best choice to lead the organization’s 7th Assembly next year.
Maggie Quinn, Courtney Lennartz, and Evan Ponter — along with their respective vice presidential candidates Gina Feghali, Katelyn Mullen, and Ryan Kristobak — presented their platforms to a modest but easily excitable crowd. As is usually the standard for the first of the two UPUA Presidential debates there was not much mudslinging as the candidates still tried to gain their footing for the spotlight. The lack of hostility between campaigns made for a very vanilla evening.
In her opening statement, Maggie Quinn made it clear that despite her position as UPUA’s Press Secretary, she was not running as an insider candidate, pointing out the many letdowns in UPUA’s checkered past. “This election is different,” she said. “We aren’t going to run to uphold the UPUA status quo. We are the ticket to move UPUA forward.” She added, “We are the only ticket with a common sense approach in hearing your student voice.”
Courtney Lennartz, meanwhile, cited the connections with the administration she has made this year as the student body Vice President as invaluable to her future success. “Once we’re elected, we’re going to hit the ground running to work for the student body,” she said.
In his opening address, Evan Ponter used his experience as an Onward State staff writer to portray himself as the candidate who would seek administrative accountability. “After two years putting pressure on the administration writing stories for Onward State, I’m ready to be a watchdog for students,” he said. “We recently lost a President who was notorious for a closed door policy. We lost a coach who, although we loved his run game, strived to make us better. It’s time for a new era at Penn State.”
The first question posed to the candidates asked them how their experience would help them lead UPUA. Lennartz, who currently serves as Vice President, said that during this past year she has “developed working relationships to get our platform positions done,” such as working with Princeton Review to provide subsidized test prep for students.
Ponter again mentioned experience as an Onward State staff writer. “As journalists during these last two years, we’ve met with every facet of student life,” he said. “We’ve been there, we’ve talked to students, and we’ve connected with their story.” Vice presidential candidate Ryan Kristobak defended the ticket’s lack of experience in UPUA by saying, “Being outside of UPUA can work to our advantage. Had we joined Freshman year [like Lennartz and Quinn] we would be far more biased. People fall into the same system, and get into a pattern of how things operate. We need to destroy the status quo.”
The Quinn/Feghali ticket attempted to stake out the middle ground between the establishment “good ol’ boys” and and the outsiders’ inexperience. The three-year UPUA veteran Quinn admitted, “When you get involved with UPUA right away, you get into the UPUA bubble,” but her vice presidential candidate Gina Feghali has no previous experience in the student government.
The candidates were also asked what they would’ve done differently if they had been UPUA President last year. Maggie Quinn’s answer was quick and decisive — she would’ve tried to stop the UPUA promotional resolution that allocated $3,000 for UPUA logo pens, cups, and sunglasses. “Our programs should be advertising us — not pieces of plastic,” Quinn said.
Ryan Kristobak, Ponter’s VP candidate, reiterated Quinn’s position on the promotional items. “The finances that were used for that resolution — that’s just not acceptable,” he said, though the Ponter campaign stressed that they would seek to bring reform not just to UPUA, but to Penn State University. “It’s obvious that what was wrong with our administration didn’t just start this year, and UPUA in past years hasn’t been questioning them,” Kristobak said.
Courtney Lennartz said that she would’ve liked to have had a “more constant communication with a variety of student organizations,” adding that “we need to keep the communication lines open” in order to increase involvement in UPUA.
After a few “rapid fire” questions (one example: “Who is your favorite United States President?”: Quinn and Feghali: Ronald Reagan, Lennartz: Dwight Eisenhower, Mullen: George Washington, Ponter and Kristobak: Bill Clinton) the debate finished up in just under 45 minutes.
It served more an introduction to the candidates than as an avenue to differentiate between them–and with the debate so devoid of hostility, it is hard to pick a winner. With incumbent VP Lennartz as the natural favorite, it’s imperative that the other candidates try to challenge her directly. Ponter–and to a lesser extent Quinn–were largely deferential and entirely respectful, and chose not to explicitly link Lennartz to any of UPUA’s obvious and noted failures this past year.
The next debate is slated for next Monday, with election day two days later on March 28.
*Disclaimer: Evan Ponter and Ryan Kristobak are both Onward State staff members.