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In last week’s debate, Undergraduate Student Government presidential candidates spent over half an hour discussing Lawnparties. Audience members — and other students — expressed frustration about the focus that seems far from issues they see as more important. 

The candidates, Matt Miller ’19, Ryan Ozminkowski ’19, and Rachel Yee ’19, debated for roughly an hour last Wednesday, Dec. 6.

At the debate, the Lawnparties discussion effectively ended when a member of the audience demanded from the USG presidential candidates, “I need to hear ideas, not bullsh*t ideals.”

Surrounded by scandals from the beginning of campaigning to recent “super PAQs,” the USG winter 2017 elections have seen their fair share of controversy. But across campus, students have been questioning why these scandals are taking precedence over actual issues.

While the issue of Lawnparties frequently takes center stage in USG presidential campaigns, this year’s emphasis is grounded more in presidential power than typical years. Because no one is running for Social Committee Chair, the USG president will be able to appoint a chair, subject to approval by the Senate.

The Daily Princetonian interviewed over a dozen undergraduates, many of whom conveyed discontent about the state of the USG presidential elections.

“I went to the debate last week and I was very disappointed in what a lot of the candidates were saying,” Lloyd Feng ’19 said. “They spent a lot of time talking about Lawnparties and how to make Princeton fun. Lawnparties shouldn’t have been everything that the debate was about.”

Feng also praised Yee for standing out among the candidates and creating in-depth policies for a variety of issues.

“Rachel has taken the time to carve out these policies,” said Feng. “The other candidates are not engaging with these issues. Students should be pissed. Students should be concerned that these are the candidates who we have to choose from. This shouldn’t be a joke to people.” Feng also noted that certain candidates were “making it a game,” ultimately “taking away what could be a really valuable opportunity for students to change the Princeton experience.”

Kieran Murphy ’19 also expressed frustration over the attempts to undermine USG’s importance.

“Maybe there is this perception on campus that USG doesn’t do very much, but I think the issues at hand are very serious, including mental health care and sexual assault on campus,” said Murphy. “I think it’s very sad that the elections have come down to personal politics and whatever the latest scandal is, and it seems like it’s more like the 2016 presidential election than a regular USG election.”

To some, Ozminkowski’s campaign drew an inordinate amount of controversial attention in the election.

“I honestly just think that the way Ryan has run his campaign, with the domain thing and allegedly saying that he’s running a parody campaign and just the way that people compare him to politicians like Trump, really kind of detracts from the context of Princeton and our experiences and our issues,” Tori Gorton ’21 said. “This election should be about the real issues that the other candidates are trying to talk about.”

Another student, Sonya Isenberg ’20, credited Ozminkowski for attempting “to make this election season more fun and lighthearted,” but emphasized that this was “clearly inappropriate if it is at the expense of those issues” that are up for debate in this election.

Other students demonstrated concern that controversy has taken precedence over discussion about real issues throughout all components of student life.

“It’s definitely frustrating that we have some candidates that are very experienced and have a lot to say and want a platform to make this about change, but most of the coverage and social media and student attention concern the controversies,” Shea Minter ’19 said. “It seems a lot like the elections before my freshman year with Will Gansa.”

Despite significant concern across campus regarding the USG presidential election, students continue to find promising aspects in the candidates.

“I think it’s unfortunate that there have been these scandals and these controversies, but I think Rachel’s platform is really important in that she goes both in-depth about the issues while being really pragmatic, sticking to the things that she can get done,” Micah Herskind ’19 said.

Liam Mullett ’19 followed up on his recent op-ed defending Ozminkowski, emphasizing that despite his “bias as Ryan’s friend,” he still wanted voters to recognize that Ozminkowski “really is a great person.”

“I think Rachel and Matt are good people and they know what they’re doing, but I think with Ryan, he just has this energy and creativity and vision to him that makes him the perfect person for it,” said Mullett. “I get why some people don’t like some of his more unconventional methods. That was kind of the reason why I wrote my piece because I was afraid that it was crossing over from the realm of tactics and campaign strategies to personal character.”

Two students who identify as Miller supporters based on their Facebook profile pictures declined to comment. Two other students who have publicly supported Ozminkowski on Facebook also declined to comment.

Voting will take place from noon on Tuesday, Dec. 12 to noon on Thursday, Dec. 14, with both times according to Eastern Standard Time.

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