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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

    Dear Editor,

    It does not bring me an iota of pleasure, dear reader, to report to you the most shocking and vile scandal to hit the USG in recent memory. Quite the contrary, this is a sad day for our student government and I fear that this latest scar’ on our political body’ will never heal, that this most recent damage will never be repaired. I am of course referring to the disturbing revelations unveiled in the USG Senate meeting on Mar. 20, 2007, which saw the impeachment of USG President, Romual Jean-Baptiste, and USG Junior Class Representative, Michael Cohan.

    The charges presented stem from the current USG elections campaign for the office of USG President. The Senate was told of how Jean-Baptiste allegedly designed two despicable ‘Elections Fliers,’ the first portraying a picture of’ Jean-Baptiste’ next to a chimpanzee, with the words: ‘Do you want this to be your USG President?’ and also containing the words, ‘Vote Joe, Vote Success,’ in order to give the false impression that Joe Antonelli, a candidate for USG President, and the SUCCESS party, were behind this act of blatant and shocking racism.

    In addition, a second flier depicting Chinelo Onochie, another candidate for USG President, was printed in which three pictures of her in provocative poses were portrayed, a similar question regarding her suitability for the presidency posed, and also contained the caption ‘Vote Joe, Vote Success.’ The Senate alleged that Jean-Baptiste then called on Michael Cohan to hang up these fliers, and it’ was further alleged that a security camera tape was used to identify Mr. Cohan as the perpetrator.

    The evidence included the written testimony of President Pro-Tempore Robert Romano, which states that Jean-Baptiste had shown Romano the provocative pictures of Onochie and told him of the possibility of making fliers using those pictures, with the aid of the Junior Class Representative. The evidence also’ included the oral testimony of Antonelli, to whom Cohan allegedly confessed and apologized to, the testimony of Onochie, who described the President as ‘very manipulative’ and to whom Jean-Baptiste also allegedly confessed and offered an apology. Onochie described it as ‘nonchalant’ and not heart felt.

    Obviously these accusations are incredibly serious. If true, and there seems to be a great deal of evidence supporting them, they would indicate that Jean-Baptiste and Cohan engaged in deliberate fraud and struck at the very heart of our democratic system of government, by illegally discrediting a fellow candidate by making it seem that he endorsed racist views.

    Furthermore, the campaign flier in which Jean-Baptiste’ was compared’ to a chimpanzee is deeply insulting to all human beings. It degrades our shared humanity, undermines the strides that we continue to make in order to promote racial equality and it harkens back to a sordid and terrible past in which such comparisons were seriously made, opening up old wounds. I am personally disgusted, dear reader, by that flier, and absolutely outraged that anyone would resort to such sordid tactics for electoral gain.

    Almost as enraging as these charges is the behavior of both Jean-Baptiste and Cohan at the Senate hearing. The current USG President refused to answer questions posed to him and deprived his constituents and the legislative branch of any meaningful explanation as to his involvement in the allegations, while Cohan apparently thought that the meeting was a joke, as evidenced by his consistent smiles throughout the proceedings, as well as the numerous cheerful pictures he took for members of the campus media.

    Both of the accused were given the opportunity to answer questions related to the accusations, in an attempt to provide clarity as to what involvement, if any, they had, or to give them a forum with which they could apologize and express their regret, were they indeed guilty. Unfortunately, both of the accused obstructed the course of justice and the revelation of the full truth.

    Faced with enormous evidence, the Senate had no choice but to impeach Jean-Baptiste (with a vote of 19 in favor, 1 opposed, and 1 abstaining,) and Cohan (with a vote of 19 in favor, 0 opposed, and 2 abstentions.) Their impeachment trial will now be held in the USG Supreme Court, where both defendants face the maximum penalty of removal from office and being permanently barred from partaking in any office or position within the USG.

    The scene at tonight’s meeting was hugely irritating and at a blow has the potential of destroying all of the significant progress that the USG has made. Perhaps the saddest part of all of this is the shocking irresponsibility and hubris expressed by Jean-Baptiste and Cohan. As Alexander Pope once said, ‘to err is human.’ I doubt that anyone reading this has not committed some error in his/her life, and for many, myself included, we have made some serious mistakes. Yet the first step after an error has been’ committed is to acknowledge it, to accept responsibility for it and to apologize for the error and strive to never do it again. We would expect this from anyone who has erred, and doubly so for an error as huge, as damaging, and as painful as the one alleged today.

    Our expectations for taking personal responsibility are even greater for leaders, especially the President and the Junior Class Representative, whose actions are supposed to be an inspiration to all of us students, and whose offices represent the student government. Leaders who take responsibility and who hold themselves accountable to the public do not refuse to cooperate in the investigation of the facts and they do not smile as serious accusations are laid against them.

    I beg the culprit parties involved to prove me wrong. I beg them to show some small shred of personal responsibility, to display an iota of compassion for the harm they have allegedly perpetrated, to salvage some tiny bit of dignity and honor in this whole affair and to resign immediately before the matter is tried in the USG Supreme Court. I beg them to apologize to the student body whom they have let down and whose trust they have betrayed, apologize for their racist behavior, and beg Antonelli’s forgiveness’ and Onochie, whom they have so painfully wronged. Only then can we students fulfill the second part of the’ Pope’s famous quote, ‘to err is human, to forgive divine.’ Do not let this wound fester by dragging this out in front of the Supreme Court. Do not allow this sad chapter of our once proud student government to close. Do not let this sad state of affairs linger forever.

    Sincerely yours,

    Esam Al-Shareffi

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