In the days leading up to the campus-wide Yale College Council election, candidates and students have expressed disappointment about the prevalence of negative attacks and allegations circulating around the presidential candidates in the race.
All four current presidential candidates — Ben Ackerman ’16, Michael Herbert ’16, Sara Miller ’16 and Leah Motzkin ’16 — agreed that since the opening of the campaign period on April 10, the atmosphere around the election has become increasingly negative. All four said campus discourse appears to have shifted dramatically away from candidates’ platforms and proposed policies for the improvement of student life.
“This year seems to be more focused on personal character attacks,” said Eric Eliasson ’14, who ran for YCC president in 2012. “I don’t think it was like this [in 2012] … It was more focused on who had the right ideas, who had the right experience.”
Students not involved with YCC also said the tone of the overall campaign season has been hostile. Of 10 students interviewed, six said they have heard negative remarks against individual presidential candidates in the form of personal attacks and allegations. Four students said they were indifferent to the elections.
“People are going after each other and talking about how they’re better than others, which defeats the purpose of elections,” said Ryan Simpson ’17.
On April 11, the four presidential candidates each published a column in the News detailing their reasons for running and their vision for next year’s Council. Eliasson said the News comment boards tended towards focusing on personal character attacks, which he attributed in part to the board’s anonymous nature.
By Wednesday evening, the column from Miller, who is also a photography editor for the News, had garnered 130 comments. In a comment posted on the day of the column’s publication, current YCC President Danny Avraham ’15 alleged that Miller had been spreading “malicious rumors” and that students had since filed complaints to the Council Elections Commission (CEC). When reached, Avraham deferred commenting and did not respond to further requests.
The CEC — which consists of the YCC Vice President and four undergraduates appointed by the YCC Executive Board — is appointed before each election to enforce regulations and ensure appropriate campaigning.
Miller confirmed that a CEC investigation took place, but said that the group ultimately determined she had not violated any regulations. She did not receive any penalties or sanctions in the end, she said.
YCC Vice President and CEC Chair Kyle Tramonte ’15 said the group has decided to handle all complaints internally between the CEC and the individual candidate.
Herbert said that many of the comments on his column criticized his political views and alleged that he is personally opposed to gay marriage. He said these comments compelled him to bring up his personal political views during his opening statement at the YCC debate over the weekend, he said. Herbert said the negativity of the comments forced him to waste time addressing “preposterous” accusations at the debate instead of detailing his specific policy proposals.
“This looks like a calculated political attack,” Herbert said.
During the debate, he said he had been told the origins of the idea he opposed gay marriage came from a Yale Political Union debate. In response, he said that he had spoken to the Yale Political Union executive board and requested that they release the minutes of every debate he had attended since coming to Yale.
“If there is a statement from me, saying that I do not endorse gay marriage, I will drop out,” he told the room.
Even candidates who said they have not been subject to personal attacks said the campaign season seems to have taken a turn for the worse. Both Motzkin and Ackerman said they have not been as directly affected by allegations online.
Still, they added that they are surprised by the amount of negativity circulating around the election.
“It’s upsetting to me that people would feel the need to drop down to a lower level and undermine somebody else’s character,” Ackerman said.
Motzkin said that she believes campaigns in general should focus not on the candidates’ personal lives, but on their visions.
Hector Pina ’16, a student unaffiliated with the YCC, said he has heard personal rumors about almost all the candidates.
“I don’t think it’s surprising that there is negativity,” he said. “But I’m surprised at the ridiculousness of the rumors.”
Voting opened at 9 a.m. on Thursday and closes at 9 p.m. on Friday.