The three candidates in the Yale College Council presidential race faced off in a debate sponsored by the Yale Political Union Monday night, touching on issues ranging from the council’s relevancy on campus to Yale’s relationship with New Haven to residential college dining hall hours.

Zach Marks ’09, YCC secretary and presidential nominee, said the YCC president should not just focus on quality-of-life issues but should also tackle issues like financial aid that affect the University’s national standing. Davenport College representative and fellow nominee Rebecca Taber ’08 said she would bring a results-oriented approach and more modest ambition to the presidency, and would focus on issues that matter most to Yale undergraduates, including community outreach, dining hall access and improving Undergraduate Career Services. Brent Godfrey ’08 — who has never served on the council — stressed his outsider credentials in the race and said that someone with a fresh perspective is needed to shake up a complacent institution that has little bearing on most Yalies’ lives.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”13838″ ]

If elected, Marks said, he would use the presidency to address concerns that transcend simple matters of undergraduate life like improving keycard access. He said improving financial aid should be a top priority for the Council, as more attractive packages offered by universities such as Harvard and Princeton draw well-qualified applicants away from Yale.

“YCC presidential candidates can make these proposals every year, and the YCC is going to end up working on them with admittedly mixed results,” Marks said. “If all I wanted to do was make adding money to your laundry account easier, I would run for YCC rep from Saybrook. The YCC president should be the most involved student activist on campus.”

Although she agreed that the University’s financial aid process needs improvement, Taber said she is not making any campaign promises to overhaul the system. Her experience on the YCC has taught her the council’s potential and limitations, she said.

“It’s clear that most people don’t care about the YCC, based on the turnout tonight, because they don’t know what we are doing and we are not doing as much as we should,” Taber said. “For every idea I have, I have specific bullet points and a plan to make it happen.”

The audience at the debate consisted of about 40 students, many of whom are members of the YCC.

As president, Taber said, she would pressure the administration to reach out to New Haven residents by making available spaces in Payne Whitney Gymnasium and other Yale buildings that often go unused. She also said she would also work with administrators to increase the number of residential college seminars the University offers.

In his opening statement, Godfrey presented himself as an outsider candidate and “average Yale student” who could bring relevance to the YCC by directing it toward issues that matter to students.

“After three years at Yale, I think I’ve started to feel something that a lot of you have felt — that the YCC doesn’t have your real interests at heart,” Godfrey said to audience members. “I’ve lived the Yale experience and seen what needs help and what doesn’t, and one of the things that needs help is the YCC … I stand here as a clear alternative to the other candidates and someone who offers a different kind of leadership.”

Godfrey said he has experience with student government, having served both on his high school’s student council and as a student member of the California State Board of Education.

But Taber said the YCC presidency requires someone who knows the arcane rules and regulations that govern the council’s operation and who can maneuver through them from the beginning of the year.

“The YCC is plagued by an awful constitution and tons of rules,” she said. “It is what it is, and it’s not going to change any time soon. I think there is a rough learning curve in terms of starting the year off and knowing how the council works and knowing the people on the council.”

Marks said he agreed that the YCC president should “know the ropes” of the council’s operation.

If elected, Marks said, he would use weekly or monthly study breaks in the residential colleges to keep students informed of what the YCC is doing and to interest more students in running for the council, which has often suffered from non-competitive elections. In addition to addressing issues like financial aid, he said, the council should aim to take on more projects — such as last semester’s Ninth at Nite promotion in Ninth Square — that do not require administration support.

“I think it’s unfortunate that so much of what the YCC does is dependent on the administration,” Marks said. “I’d like to see some more YCC projects that aren’t dependent on Betty T saying, ‘That sounds like a good idea. I’ll talk to my people about that.’”

Voting in this year’s elections began yesterday morning and concludes tomorrow at 9 p.m. In addition to the presidential race, there are campus-wide contests for vice president, treasurer, secretary, Yale Student Activities Committee chair and Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee chair.