University Student Senate Fails to Elect Vice Chair for Fiscal Affairs

USS's Haris Khan (center) and Smitha Varghese (right) have one of their last conversations as USS delegates.

 CUNY’s University Student Senate (USS) held its internal elections for the 2019-2020 academic year this past Sunday, Oct. 21 at Guttman Community College. The 34 delegates and additional dozen observers who had showed up to Midtown expected a quick and punctual handover of power. What they got instead was four hours of deliberation, five rounds of voting, and a hung election.

   Ten seats were up for grabs among the delegates of USS – including Brooklyn College’s own Ethan Milich (running for chair) and Fay Yanofsky (running for Vice Chair of Fiscal Affairs). While nine of the ten seats up for grabs were filled – including USS chair, where Milich lost his bid – the position of Vice Chair for Fiscal Affairs remains unfilled.

   In order to win an election to any position within USS, a candidate needs a quorum of 29 votes; with only 34 delegates in attendance, this made the path to victory difficult in competitive races. After the first round of voting, the four races where no one cleared 29 votes went into run-offs, where only the top two candidates were put on the ballot.

   But after four subsequent rounds of run-offs, the race for Vice Chair of Fiscal Affairs remains unresolved. Neither Yanofsky nor her competitor, Baruch delegate John Mondal, received the 29 votes necessary for a total victory; likewise, neither candidate chose to yield.

   Even though Yanofsky trailed Mondal 14 to 22 at final count, she thinks she still has a path to victory.

   “Usually there’s a lot of pressure to yield and just hang over the nomination, but I looked at the numbers and it didn’t make sense to do it,” Yanofsky explained. She attributes her vote deficit to the low turnout at the USS meeting.

   “I should have been much closer,” she said. “There were six people who were supposed to vote for me but didn’t come.”

   Those delegates who were not in attendance – including BC delegate Gary Ortiz – were instead represented by their alternates, who Yanofsky did not communicate with while campaigning.

   “I had a plan,” Yanofsky said. “I didn’t expect such low turnout.”

   Among Yanofsky’s plans for the vice chair position are bringing participatory budgeting to USS and increasing transparency within the organization.

   While Yanofsky chose not to withdraw her name from consideration, her fellow delegate Ethan Milich ended up removing his name from contention after coming in second place during the first round of elections. 

   “I did my best,” Milich said. He got 12 votes to the 22 votes garnered by City Tech delegate Timothy Hunter. Dannelly Rodriguez, who was also in contention, didn’t get a single vote and was promptly eliminated from the running, as was Brooklyn College senior Corrinne Greene, who received a single write-in vote.

   (“USS must urgently re-evaluate their election procedures to make them more democratic,” Greene told Vanguard in a statement. “We should never have another race for chair with only cisgender men in the field.”)

   Although Milich supports his fellow Brooklyn delegate, and encourages Yanofsky to continue, he argues that the system that allows her to refuse to yield is indicative of larger democratic issues within USS and what he calls its “toxic political culture.”

   For now, the outgoing vice chair for fiscal affairs, Razieh Arabi, has been named interim vice chair by unanimous decision of the USS plenary, which allows the body to continue on voting and passing a budget for the 2020 fiscal year. Both Yanofsky and Mondal will work alongside Arabi for now, until one of them eventually takes the seat after a second round of voting that will occur at a yet-to-be-decided future date. 

   Until then, Yanofsky is holding out for a victory.

   “I don’t think anybody has the numbers to win, but I should have been much closer, for the work that I did and the people that I spoke to,” she said. “Just, six people didn’t turn out. I’m hoping next time they do.”