Having a student presence on Williamsburg’s City Council is an absolute essential prerequisite for this city to have a just and representative governing body. For too long, students have made up half of the city’s residents of voting age; and yet, on critical issues their needs receive little to no recognition from those in the position to make things happen. This week, government professor Ronald Rapoport pitched to The Flat Hat a novel approach for realizing this goal, and his idea is one of which the student body should take notice.
In the recent past, two students have run for council seats, and twice they have failed by very slim margins — under 200 votes. Rapoport argues that if this time around two student candidates run for office, we will have a much better shot at electing a student into office. At the crux of the issue is a quirk of the Williamsburg voting system, which allows each person to vote for two candidates. With only one student running, student voters are basically forced to cast a vote for the opposition, but when two students run, this conflict is eliminated.
But wait: Is a vote for a non-student candidate necessarily a vote for the opposition? We are sorry to say that, in a vacuum, we believe it is. First of all, at this time no strong student advocates from outside the College of William and Mary have announced candidacy. Even if one had, time and time again city council members sweet talk the student body while on campus, only to vote against our interests when it actually matters. The way the city recently gave us the run around with respect to amending the three-person rule is a perfect example of how city politics will continue to resemble a game of cat and mouse until we have someone who will certainly vie for our interests.
As beneficial as it may be, running two student candidates will be, as Matt Beato ’09 puts it, a “double-edged sword.” Seeing so many students on a ballot may galvanize Williamsburg’s non-student population into turning out en masse, as they will fear a student take over. But this is simply how politics work, and the only appropriate response to such a situation is to encourage student turnout to the greatest extent possible and to ensure our representatives run friendly and positive campaigns befitting the caliber of students we would chose to represent us.
There are also risks involved with this strategy. If, for instance, a resident candidate curries favor with a segment of the campus population, then we will be confronted with the dolorous situation of having the student vote potentially split between the two student candidates. This could only spell defeat — for everyone. The student body must ensure that it goes forward united by the common goal of increasing our representation.
Being on City Council is a real responsibility that requires four years of real work. In order to truly have a lasting impact, we need to elect responsible students willing to put the time and energy into creating the change that Williamsburg needs now and for its future generations of students. And this time around, we can elect such students. The only question now is: Will we?