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Behind the BSG candidates' choices to drop out

by Shelby Toth - News Editor
Tue, Apr 24th 2018 10:00 pm

With the special election to choose the newest Brockport Student Government (BSG) president and vice president on the horizon, many have been wondering what happened to the original candidates. As you may recall, all three candidate pairings dropped out of the race before voting began. Each pair dropped out for different personal reasons.

The first team to drop out consisted of Joshua Mathews and Alena Piska. Mathews was running for president, with Piska running as his vice president. Mathews is currently the BSG vice president, and at the time of their campaign, Piska served as an advocacy coordinator. 

As an advocacy coordinator, she believes she was being treated unfairly by her superior, advocacy director Cesar Coronado. Piska claims Coronado, who declined to comment, “didn’t do anything,” and forced her to read his report at almost every senate meeting, as he did not attend most. He was also often unable to send his report to Piska in time for her to read it, she claims.

“I expressed multiple times that it wasn’t fair, he needed to be held accountable, especially because there was a large pay gap between us,” Piska said. “However, my emails were ignored, and when I did get a meeting, they weren’t taken very seriously because nothing ever happened.”

The pay gap she mentions is considerable. As of the 2017-18 budget, the advocacy director cumulatively earned $3,960 by the end of the year, whereas advocacy coordinators earned $2,520. This meant Piska was slated to earn over $1,000 less than the person she claims she did much of the work for. 

Piska also claims she felt discomfort in sharing an office with Coronado, and did most of her work in the activities office instead. Even after expressing these complaints, Piska did not see much improvement. This led her to drop out of the BSG race and leave her position as advocacy coordinator. 

As for her running mate Mathews, she said that he also played a role in the situation. While Mathews declined to comment, Piska did not seem to hold malice toward Mathew being involved.

“I think Josh has a good heart and he had good intentions, but I don’t think he or the cabinet really understood what they were doing and what the toll all of this took on me, and I don’t know how much they really listened to me,” Piska said.

After attempts to bring the issue to the cabinet’s attention, Piska claims that it “refused to take action,” and that BSG president Elisha Madison kept the situation “quiet,” even telling others to do the same. When asked, Madison confirmed the second statement as being true, to a degree. 

“Staying quiet is a very simple way to put it and it really doesn’t paint a good picture, but it’s not necessarily an incorrect thing,” Madison said. “But it’s not like I was trying to pretend it didn’t happen. We were very much trying to figure out these issues, it was just very challenging. I’ll be the first to admit that there were things I could have done better and should have done better.”

Madison explained that he wanted to avoid “office conflict,” which was why he preferred that people involved did not speak about the issue. He also mentioned the steps BSG took to try and remedy the issue, electing to go through the college’s human resources department by way of the organization’s faculty advisor.

“We brought it to our advisor Karen Podsiadly,” Madison said. “She sent it through her proper channels… We hadn’t faced an issue like this before, so we didn’t have anything in our own policies to really address this, so we were trying to mimic the college as much as we could.”

These efforts were not seen as sufficient to Piska. 

“When I left, all these people told me ‘you should have come to me, I could have helped’ and ‘you have to stay in the organization if you want to change things,’ but it’s not always my responsibility,” Piska said. “It’s not the full responsibility of the person whom wrong is being done to. Everyone saw me stand up every Friday, and check my phone for a last minute text from [Coronado] to read his report, but who stopped and asked any questions about that?”

The next candidate pairing to drop out was Tyler Mackey and Jacob Szalapski. However, they are “unable to comment” on what caused them to withdraw their ticket, according to Szalapski via email.

The final duo to drop out of the election was that of Jack Merritt and Mars Lee. Merritt declined to comment, but Lee explained that Merritt’s treatment of her is what caused her to withdraw, thus pulling Merritt out as well.

“I dropped out of the elections because I realized my running mate did not treat me with respect or equality,” Lee said. “This was a dynamic that existed as running mates and I realized it would continue if we were elected.”

She described Merritt as “greatly enjoying controlling and having power over people and hierarchies,” as well as hinting towards a negative treatment of women.

“I couldn’t endorse him as a person, so I couldn’t endorse him as a president,” Lee said.

Lee also took to Facebook to express some of the reasons for dropping out of the election. In a post, she described Merritt’s controlling attitude over her, claiming that he tried to change how she dressed, as well as influencing her not to dye her hair, get a piercing and more things so as though not to make politicians close to him “uncomfortable.”

“He said that to win, he could prove to his politician bosses that he could ‘win a liberal campus.’ To further his career at the expense of my mental and emotional health,” Lee wrote. 

A classmate of Merritt’s, Grace Judge, backed up some of Lee’s claims. Judge agreed with the idea that power was important to Merritt, but possibly for the wrong reasons.

“To me, he seems like the kind of person that wants power because power feels good and also that power looks good, not because he wants to make a difference with it,” Judge said.

She then went on to describe an occurrence in a class she shared with him. For a group project in the class, Merritt’s group created a video about gun violence, where he portrayed a “kind-of bully.” When the professor of the class discussed a desire to submit the video for Scholar’s Day, which was technically Merritt’s property as it was uploaded to his Youtube channel, Merritt pumped on the breaks.

“He was like ‘no, you’re not allowed to use it,’ ‘no, it makes me look bad, I’m running for office, no,’” Judge said. “He was completely adamant on not using it because he has ‘important friends in high offices’, and ‘if they ever saw it, it would make him look as a bad guy.’”

These different personal issues that arose during the campaigns raise red flags. The political climate of the BSG election appeared to have taken its toll on all of the candidates, forcing the special election to be passed swiftly.

The special election will begin on April 30 and run through May 1. The new candidates for president and vice president are Aaron Snyder and Felicia Minton, Joshua Mathews and Katelynn Demskie, and Zachary Kornberg and Elliot Zalewski.