Waging an Ethical Campaign – One Candidate’s Perspective


The campaign battle waged on.

Before reading this, I suggest reading Eric Bernstein’s article “Separating the Truth from the Rumors”, which gives a great explanation of the controversial Class of 2018 elections this year. This is an editorial, which means that it is not a factual article but a column expressing my opinion on the events that took place during the past few weeks.

How do you respond to a difficult situation? One where you know you could handle it many different ways, but you don’t know which one is the right way to go, or the right decision to make?

I found myself in one like this on Tuesday morning, May 17, during Track 1, my free period. Following the previous stressful week, which was a result of the start to Student Council campaigning, this week was already proving to be even more challenging than the previous one, when I thought that Campaign stickers were the biggest of my worries. I was running for Class Vice President “with” Ryan Finvarb, who was running for President (though, officially, the President and VP don’t run as a ticket).

When the campaigning began, Ryan and I had decided that our reelection campaign should be simple; we would run on the strengths and successes of our Presidency and Vice Presidency from our Sophomore year, such as ordering class hoodies that were free to our class members, listening to the voices of the students in our grade by using surveys and polls, and also getting as much participation from our class in Homecoming events as we could. We would be best fit for the job because we had the experience; I had two years of being involved in our class council under my belt, and I had already learned a lot. Simple. After last year’s successful campaign video, we decided that we were going to make another one, explaining all the reasons to vote “Sayf and Fin for the Win.”

This brings me to Monday night, May 16, when Harrison and Tristan, our opposition, had posted their video on our Class of 2018 Facebook page. The video contained multiple violations of the campaign guidelines that Ms. Kelly gave out to all candidates.

What was I to do about this video that was clearly a violation of the rules, but that was gaining so much support from our grade through likes and positive comments? The rules stated “Any candidate acting in an unsportsmanlike or unethical manner will be disqualified immediately. Do not make any reference to race, religion, gender, etc. and do not talk about the other candidates. Run on your own strengths.”  All videos were supposed to be submitted to Ms. Kelly for approval; had Ms. Kelly approved this video?  Or had it not been submitted for approval? I knew I didn’t want to lose from an unfair race, and if Ms. Kelly approved the video then that was fine with me, but Ryan and I had already made our video that ran on our strengths, like the guidelines required all candidates to.

I decided to email Ms. Kelly to learn more about whether it was expected that “All candidates [were] expected to review and adhere to these guidelines” and that a violation could result in disqualification, or if the guidelines were just meaningless. I asked if I could meet with her the next day for clarification.

I was surprised when all of a sudden, the video that so many of my classmates had declared was an “Oscar award winning video” was deleted from the Facebook page, followed by an apology from Harrison saying that the video was inappropriate. I figured that Ms. Kelly must have asked Harrison to delete the video, and a few minutes later this was confirmed when she emailed me that the video was down.

This brings me to Tuesday morning, during track 1, when I met with Ms. Kelly. She took responsibility and said, “I should have taken the rules more literally and not allowed them to post the video.”

Now, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Harrison and Tristan’s video gained lots of support during the hour that it was on the class Facebook page, even though it violated the rules, and should have resulted in a disqualification, according to the guidelines. I did not want to win my race because my opponent was disqualified, but, at the same time, I wanted a fair race. I did not want this video that violated the rules to be the reason that I lost.

Ms. Kelly told me that she had explained the situation to Mr. Turf, so Ryan and I went to talk to him to see how the situation would be handled.

Mr. Turf told us that Ms. Kelly would make the final decision, but that he did not think the video should have resulted in a disqualification, leading Ryan and me to feel that the guidelines were meaningless. Mr. Turf felt that as the incumbents, we should easily be able to counter this situation with no problem. So that’s exactly what we did; we handled it like any 16-year-olds would. We broke the rules, except this time we had permission.

In order to make things even, Ms. Kelly allowed us to make a video that also violated the guidelines, and talked about the other candidates. Ryan and I had already made our video, and the elections were the next day. Was this really how the situation should have been handled? I knew that the right thing to do was to be the bigger person and not break the rules just because someone else did, but I did not want to lose my race as a result of this video.

With the help of some friends, Ryan and I made a music video that was our version of the song, Back to Back, by Drake, a freestyle diss track that Drake wrote targeted at rapper, Meek Mill. Our diss track was targeted at Harrison and Tristan, and we recorded it after school Tuesday, less than 24 hours from the elections. The video was going to be edited by our friend and “Campaign Manager,” Danielle Geathers, and ready to publish by Wednesday morning, before the voting would take place.

After I had been so determined and sure about posting this video, I started to have doubts. I realized that this was not how we should have handled the situation; we shouldn’t have fought fire with fire. I shrugged this feeling off immediately by thinking of how long it took us to film the video, and how late Danielle must have stayed up the night before editing the video. In the car on the way to school, my brother told me exactly what I didn’t want to hear; he told me that he thought the video would not make a difference, and that it would look better for Ryan and me to do the classy thing, and not retaliate. Two wrongs don’t make a right, after all. In the end, we decided to post it.  I did not want all of Danielle’s hard work to go to waste; she did a great job of filming and editing our video, and I was very thankful that she helped us out.

The video was posted during track 5, in the morning on Wednesday before the speeches in the assembly. This finally brings us to the speeches, which would end up getting Ryan’s and my opposition disqualified.  As reported in “Separating the Truth from the Rumors”, the speeches violated the guidelines by talking badly about the other candidates, and Mr. Bronish and Mr. Brennan both had to stop Harrison and Tristan multiple times during their speeches and remind them of the rules.

The speeches were the talk of the town during track 6 and during lunch, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I had stumbled during my speech, but luckily for me no one was interested in that. They were all interested in Harrison and Tristan’s rule-breaking speeches, and what the consequences would be.  During lunch, I heard a rumor that Tristan and Harrison were in trouble because of their speeches, after different students and teachers voiced their disgust to Ms. Kelly. I heard that they were sent to Mr. Oronoz’s office, and that the situation was going to be handled by both Mr. Oronoz and Mr. Turf. I deleted our “Back to Back” video during lunch, as I knew it would prove to be meaningless from this point on.

I couldn’t help but think of less than one day earlier to this moment, when the situation and the violation of the guidelines were simply shrugged off and neglected, and Ryan and I were encouraged to handle the situation on our own, since we were “the incumbents” and we should have been able to easily handle the situation. The situation was not properly handled then and there, and now it had escalated and returned right back to where it began.

In writing this column and sharing my perspective, I am hoping to inform our community of the dilemma I faced, which was caused by the abandonment of these guidelines by both candidates and administration alike. In the years going forward, we should strictly enforce the campaign guidelines to prevent a situation like this from happening again.  Our school community members, administrators and students alike, should own their mistakes and learn from them, so that we can all benefit not only from properly run campaigns, but from efficient and ethical ones in the future.