Forum separates passionate from write-off

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

USC Candidates debate: Mariyanayagam, Steinberg, Lecce, Gauss

Jon Purdy

THIS CIRCLE TALK THING SEEMS TO BE WORKING SWIMMINGLY. University Students' Council presidential candidates (from left) Christan Mariyanayagam, Mitch Steinberg, Stephen Lecce and Ryan Gauss throw down at the presidential debate in the University Community Centre yesterday.

The four candidates for University Students’ Council president " Ryan Gauss, Stephen Lecce, Christan Mariyanayagam and Mitch Steinberg " were grilled by members of Western’s various media outlets in an hour-long media forum held in the Spoke on Wednesday.

Moderated by Dave Ward, associate editor at The Gazette, and featuring representatives from TV Western and 94.9 FM CHRW, the candidates were questioned on key issues, followed by a rapid-fire question period and a chance for debate.

An expert panel featuring Ninian Mellamphy, a professor emeritus in the department of English, Cameron Anderson, an assistant political science professor and former USC President Fab Dolan, gave feedback on the candidates’ performance.

“You look for a voice to engage the audience and articulation to grab their imaginations,” Mellamphy, who has taught public speaking classes, said.

He added a strong presence begins with one’s appearance.

Mariyanayagam, dressed in a button-down shirt and sweater, looked pulled-together according to Mellamphy. Not so with Steinberg.

“What the hell was the point of the cap and that ugly orange?” Mellamphy asked. “He sat back like someone who had just been relieved of diarrhea.”

Mellamphy felt Gauss’ campaign shirt was a smart choice, and saw nothing offensive about Lecce’s plaid button-down.

“He looked like a well-bred chap casually dressed for The Hunt Club,” Mellamphy said of Lecce’s attire.

As for the candidates’ rhetoric, Mellamphy felt Gauss and Mariyanayagam were good speakers who consistently offered examples from their platforms.

“[Lecce] was too strong on principles, too weak on pragmatic examples,” Mellamphy said, but noted he improved over the course of the forum.

Mellamphy considered Steinberg, the self-proclaimed everyman, to be a write-off.

“He was hardly worth listening to,” Mellamphy said.

Dolan assessed how the candidates would act at the board table, council meetings and with the media.

“Up until halfway, it was a dead heat for me,” Dolan said. “When the candidates realized they could refute each other ... then [there was] spirit and passion. Then, Stephen flourished.”

Dolan said Lecce knew the most about the USC and is the more experienced politician.

However, he felt Lecce’s repeated statements of being approachable and friendly were unnecessary.

“I should be able to tell that just from listening to [him],” Dolan explained.

Mariyanayagam was doing well for the first half, Dolan noted, until a pointed question from Ward regarding Mariyanayagam’s lack of an environmental platform prompted attacks from the other candidates.

“He struggled to defend himself at a critical point,” Dolan said.

While he felt Gauss’ delivery was the most passionate, Dolan questioned his continual name-dropping of local London politicians.

“It didn’t resonate with me,” he explained. “I think [Gauss] would be a great candidate for a [London city council] position.”

Dolan felt Steinberg skirted around many issues and did himself a disservice by being vague.

Anderson felt Lecce was the most assertive in the debate, followed by Gauss " while Steinberg disappeared into the background.

From a political perspective, he wondered if the candidates would garner enough interest to ensure a solid voter turnout. “It’s not clear if there was a defining issue to galvanize voters.”

With three solid candidates in the mix " minus Steinberg " it could be a fairly close election, Anderson said.

“I’d put Stephen and Ryan at the top of a two-horse race,” he added.

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