This week on Tuesday, April 4, UW-Milwaukee students will be asked to vote for the next Student Association president for the 2017-18 school year.
Mike Sportielo has been president for the past two years, with this being his final year he is relinquishing his position to one of the following candidates: Adrian Palau-Tejeda, Emily Kuester or Benjamin Gerard.
Of these three candidates, Gerard has already had a taste of the presidency. At his last school, UW-Washington County, Gerard was president from 2014 to April 2015 until deciding to resign several minutes before his impeachment hearing.
Gerard said his resignation came about due to a medical condition, which is now under better control.
According to Ubiquitous, UW-WC’s student newspaper, tensions between Gerard and the rest of SGA began as early as fall, at the beginning of his presidency.
Ubiquitous reported that according to other executive SGA members, they felt Gerard abused his power. Additionally, he was known for sending last minute emails, members of SGA stated that meeting notices were often sent the morning of. On top of that, he failed to show up to some meetings altogether.
In the letter of impeachment, it was stated that Gerard “abused his position, as president of SGA, and attempted to utilize its power for personal reasons against a university professor”, “acted outside the realm of his authority, as the President of SGA, by inquiring into the finances and activities of the University of Wisconsin-Washington County Newspaper, Ubiquitous, without the required majority vote,” and failed to perform duties as president.
Gerard doesn’t feel that way at all.
“As far as I understood, everything was good,” he said. “Nobody had given me complaints so I kept going.”
In the beginning, Gerard recalls that when issues arose or people disliked his stance on a certain subject the other members were quick to approach and explain why they didn’t agree with his approach and to suggest revising it.
Gerard said SGA was a rather informal group, they met every week or every two weeks and they were, according to him, all friends.
He attests that he always considered their advice and often reevaluated his opinion on certain matters. In other words, according to him, there was an open line of communication between himself and the rest of the students. However, it came as quite a surprise when he received an email notifying him of his impending impeachment.
“I was just blindsided, for the lack of a better phrase, that like nobody had come to talk to me like given me notice about this,” said Gerard.
At UW-WC, an executive member has one week to hand in their resignation after being notified of their impeachment hearing, otherwise, they must attend the hearing and two-thirds of the senate must vote in favor of impeachment for it to be official.
According to Gerard, he learned about the hearing several days before it took place.
“This was kind of dropped into my lap like last minute,” he said, “the idea was that I’d attend and then give a speech to defend myself.”
Gerard said that senate had already held several conversations pertaining to his impeachment, none of which he was privy to him. In the end, though, according to Gerard the decision to resign and the forces behind it were entirely his own.
“I was saving face for the SGA,” he said.
On April 8, 2015, at exactly 11:57 a.m., Gerard sent in his resignation. It was three minutes before his hearing.
The semester ended with Vice-President Jonas Gungor as acting president, and after graduation, Gerard transferred to UW-Milwaukee.
Although his presidency didn’t end on the best note at UW-WC, Gerard has not been deterred from politics and is running for president again after working for two years with the Student Association.
According to him, his past presidency and incidents haven’t affected his campaign at all.
As part of his platform, Gerard says he supports the LGBT rights and has discussed bringing more attention to their needs on campus. During the past two years, he’s helped them garner more support for them through SA bylaws.
“I’ve supported anyone on campus that comes and asks me for help and people know that,” Gerard said.
Sophomore, Eli Walker, does not agree.
According to Walker, although Gerard claims to advocate for the LGBT+ community, his presentation and terminology suggest differently.
On the night of the last debate, March 30, Walker said that Gerard used the terms homosexual and transexual.
“Those are both outdated terms that aren’t used and people in the community know not to use them,” Walker said. “And I think that’s a tell that he doesn’t actually do the work that he says he’s doing.”
Pawandeep Mann, a sophomore majoring in psychology, said that Gerard came to one of her organization meetings, talking to the members about ways that he could help the group gain notability, but during the meeting, Mann noticed that his comments were off-putting.
“He said he’ll help us hold an event with all of us in our same room or the same area so people get to know us to so they won’t be scared of us. That sort of offended me how he said that.”
Still, not all students are familiar with Gerard. Many of them said they didn’t know who he was only that they recognized his poster from around the Union.
Biochemistry major, Austin Lange who is an active member of the student body doing work with Circle K, says he’s not sure who Gerard is nor is he familiar with his campaign. It’s important to Lange that he is somewhat familiar with the candidates before casting his vote.
According to Lange, during last week’s debate, one of the candidates walked around and stopped in during the meeting to speak about their campaign. He has never met or spoken to Gerard, though he does recognize his poster from around campus.
Many of the candidates in this election have been campaigning, spending time handing out flyers, speaking to student organizations and learning the issues of the students. Voting will be open from April 4 to April 6. All students will receive an email to vote for the different SA candidates.