SGA hosts debate for elections

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SGA hosts debate for elections

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Candidates in the upcoming Ward 1, Ward 8 and East District elections held their final debate Feb. 18, organized by the Student Government Association, at Brennan’s Pub on the first floor of the Davis Center.

The debate, co-sponsored by SGA, CDAE and The Cynic was open to both student and non-student residents of East District and took place less than two weeks away from election day, March 3.

The debate was the last between the five candidates before the election.

“It’s good to have [the debate] at Brennan’s. It exposes students to an environment that they wouldn’t usually encounter,” senior Zerrin Sehovic said.

The candidates first answered a series of questions asked by moderators. They then responded to various questions from student and non-student residents who were in atttendance.

Ward 2 resident Andrew Champagne asked candidates how they would improve public safety in light of recent criminal activity, referencing a recent homicide on Greene Street.

“Public safety is paramount,” Champagne said. “Burlington is traditionally, and will continue to be, a very safe place to attend school.”

“I came to this debate with an open mind, and I wanted to hear about the issues that are important to me and my fellow students,” sophomore Simon Sugerman said.

Ward 1 candidate Sharon Foley-Bushor, who is running unopposed, agreed with East District candidate Selene Colburn that an expansion of the blue light system on campus could help improve public safety between UVM campus and downtown Burlington.

“These are small steps, but they are important steps that make us safer,” Foley-Bushor said.

During the debate, questions ranged from student and non-student resident relations to public safety and transportation.

“I think we need a more data-driven approach to dealing with some of the problems and tensions between students and long-term residents. I am encouraged by a new approach that targets problem houses instead of targeting all students,” Colburn said.

Ward 8 candidate Adam Roof said he would create a program for the ward that would help make the community safer by informing residents about who to contact in instances of drug and alcohol abuse.

Through his organization, he would create an “awareness and information program that would pretty much inform anybody about a drug overdose or an alcohol overdose or a sexual assault happened in that area,” said Roof.

“I started attending Neighborhood Planning Assembly meetings last year, and I realized that there was a true communication breakdown between students, long-term Burlingtonians and the city,” Ward 8 candidate Brock Gibian said.

“I think that if we did create a tighter bond with the students and the downtown community, it could be a real asset,” East District candidate Carmen Scoles said.

Questions asked by SGA moderators about housing issues were important to candidates and students alike.

“The debate has definitely swayed my vote,” senior Alex Crimmin said.

“I think that with high rents, affordability is one aspect of that, but I think what is important to recognize is access,” Roof said.

Roof said he wants to create a system to help facilitate new housing opportunities.

UVM currently houses 63 percent of the undergraduate student population on campus, according to the University’s 2014 progress report to the city done by Campus Planning Services.

“I’ve heard from residents that they don’t want big development in the heart of downtown,” Gibian said.

Gibian said he wants to focus on making more information available to prospective tenants about housing.

“I’ve tried to be a strong voice for pushing for more affordable housing in the mix … and I think that we sometimes stereotype all students as being really wealthy,” Colburn said.

Scoles emphasized the use of apps such as SeeClickFix, a database that people use to share information and issues about their neighborhoods.

“I think it’s also important to note that people don’t always know their rights as renters and as students,” Scoles said.

“I know I didn’t know all of my rights, and knowing those can be really important to keeping landlords accountable,” she said.

The candidates also debated issues involving public transportation, particulary transportation from campus to downtown Burlington.

They also talked about landlord accountability and leasing laws.