The candidates for President of the Class of 2022 gathered, along with about 35 of their classmates, in the basement common room in Dominic Hall this evening for an impromptu debate. The race for president has become the most heated campaign for the Student Government Association the Hilltop has seen in several years, with sharp barbs being traded and bitter campaigning being the dominant theme.
The debate was organized by Sean Bentley ’22, who is running for class president. Bentley was given the first opening statement and the final closing statement, as well as setting the date and time of the debate. The other three candidates were present as well, David Chairez ’22, Gina Gagliardi ’22, and Trevor Nelson ’22, although it is unclear if they all knew about the debate in advance. David arrived part-way through opening statements.
The first topics debated by the candidates were ones that have been discussed in The Hilltopper’s candidate profiles as well as the SGA-sponsored speeches: safe sex and intervisitation. Chairez and Nelson agreed that the College should play an active role in promoting safe sex on campus through providing contraceptives. Bentley applauded the practice of safe sex while lamenting the possible spending of student tuition dollars on purchasing contraceptives. He applied the logic the Supreme Court used in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) decision – you cannot force someone to purchase a product in direct violation of their deeply held religious beliefs. Gagliardi countered that this kind of policy discussion was the job of the SGA Senate, not the class president.
On the topic of intervisitation, Bentley, Chairez, and Nelson all agreed that the policy should end, while Gagliardi said that she wanted to take “everyone’s voices” into account when making decisions, adding that she had spoken to some members of the Class of 2022 who said that they liked intervisitation.
Bentley theorized that Saint Anselm College was losing potential students to schools like SNHU and UNH because of the intervisitation policy but did not provide any evidence to support the claim. Nelson also spoke about the need for such a change to come through the SGA Senate rather than the class president.
Asked about fundraisers, the candidates each presented a plethora of ideas to blend class unity with fundraising. A popular idea is a fair or carnival, which would bring in the Greater Manchester community, although there was controversy over whose idea it was.
Bentley presented it as his idea but Chairez countered and said that he first proposed it at SGA-sponsored speeches. Gagliardi proposed a scavenger hunt and a game night while Nelson suggested a class-wide game of manhunt or other night-time games. A follow-up question from The Hilltopper about how these events would actually raise money for Junior Formal and the Senior Package was ignored by the moderator.
The most contentious moment of the night, undoubtedly, centered around “Cake-gate” – the scandal that has consumed the race. The Hilltopper has been pursuing this story for nearly a week and has spoken to several sources about it. Bentley was going around Dominic Hall the evening before the SGA-sponsored speeches, giving out cake to potential voters. When he encountered Gagliardi giving cookies out to voters, a piece of cake that was in his hand ended up on another student, Matt, who is a friend of Gagliardi. In the debate, Gagliardi said that the cake was clearly thrown at her and Matt “took the bullet” for her, while Bentley said that it was gravity and his “need to go to the gym more.”
A separate source from the Class of 2022, speaking to The Hilltopper on a condition of anonymity over fear of retribution, said that Bentley had dropped the entire sheet cake on a classmate’s bed, picked it up after the icing fell onto the bedsheets, and proceeded to hand out the cake without apologizing to the student for ruining the bed or telling anyone it had fallen on the bed.
A post on Sean’s campaign Instagram (@seanforprez2022) with a picture of half a cake and a caption attacking his opponents for passing out candy and cookies as if they were “in 2nd grade” was taken down after Chairez mentioned the comment at the debate.
In a comment to The Hilltopper before the debate, Bentley said, “I categorically deny throwing cake at Ms. Gagliardi. It is completely outrageous that I am being accused of this. While I did pass at cake to the residents of Dominic Hall last week, I would never throw anything at anyone, which obviously includes Gina. This story is 100% [false] and it is clear that it is nothing but a distraction.” He continued, “My opponents refuse to debate me because they know we have the momentum heading into the election so they having else [sic] better to do than spread false rumors about me. Disgraceful!”
Kevin Chrisom ’22 is serving as Bentley’s campaign manager. After the debate, he told The Hilltopper that he thought “Sean did a very nice job. Unfortunately, the audience seemed to be a bit of a distraction but it was all in good fun.” He said that he was with Bentley when the cake was being passed out and “[Sean] did not throw cake at anyone,” calling Gagliardi a liar, and insisted that his candidate “never physically took a piece of cake and threw it.”
Chairez said that the debate “was great” and the turnout shows that “our freshman class care[s] about what we have to say to improve our lives here at St. A’s.” On the matter of Cake-gate, David said that he doesn’t “believe Gina is a liar. I feel I can take her word over Sean’s because Sean has called me and Gina out, he has disrespected our campaigns…What I’ve heard from other people is that it did happen.”
Gagliardi said that the debate was “definitely a wild environment but each candidate had an opportunity to display their views.” When told about Chrisom’s comments, Gagliardi offered a brief response, “That’s really interesting because they never could give a clear explanation as to…how the cake ended up on Matt.”
Nelson could not be reached for comment immediately after the debate.
As Election Eve turns into Election Day, voters in the Class of 2022 will have to make up their minds. John Tobin ’22, a nursing major, attended the debate tonight. When asked by The Hilltopper for whom he planned to vote, his response was simply, “I honestly don’t know.”
While several students were seen sporting David Chairez for President stickers after the debate, it seems the race is anyone’s for the taking.
Michael Rosen ’22 also attended the debate. He told The Hilltopper that he thought the debate went okay. He continued, I think the moderator didn’t let the audience ask enough questions. I felt like it was very controlled.” He was disappointed that the audience was only allowed to ask two questions. Rosen said he went into the debate undecided and left even more undecided, saying that he “had to do some thinking now after finding out that Sean threw a piece of cake.”
Polls are open Wednesday, September 19th and Thursday, September 20.