Government professor Ronald Rapoport saw what happened to Matt Beato ’09, a College of William and Mary student who ran unsuccessfully for the Williamsburg City Council in 2008, and has a plan he believes will give future student candidates a better chance at winning in city elections.
Rapoport said that since every voter gets to cast two votes in the election, two students should run.
“Willam and Mary students are so dutiful that they will vote for two candidates,” Rapoport said. “The ballots tell you to vote for two candidates. What [students] don’t realize is that when they vote for a second candidate in addition to the student, they are voting for someone who may beat the student because of their vote. Two students should run so that students don’t vote against the student candidate.”
When extrapolated for the entire election, half of all votes cast by College students at the College would be for rival candidates, assuming they use their first vote for a student candidate. With two students in the race, this problem would be eliminated.
“In the town, [student candidates] can run as if they were running individually,” Rapoport said. “On campus, you want to make sure the students vote a student ticket. If one person is putting more effort into it, that putting more effort into it, that person can put more effort into the city and town.”
However, Beato,who was just under 200 votes shy of becoming a city councilman, urges caution.
“[Rapoport’s idea] is a double-edged sword,” he said.
While two candidates might reach out to more voters, there are potential implications that could arise if two students are on the ballot.
“[The citizens of Williamsburg] might fear a takeover,” Beato said.
Rapoport disagrees. He believes that students are being overly cautious.
“These candidates do not need to run a hostile campaign,” he said. “It’s not about dominance.”
Beato’s campaign in 2008 attracted the attention of both the campus and the City of Williamsburg, as he brought up issues that students and citizens such as affordable housing, the city’s tourism-based economy, noise violations and the three-person rule.
Although he was widely supported by students during the race, Beato failed to win the seat due to lackluster student turnout on election day.
This low attendance was attributed to the election’s mid-May date, when many students had already left the city for summer vacation.
This obstacle won’t be a problem for a student candidate in the upcoming election, which is slated to take place early May.
Regardless of the feasibility of electing a student to city council, the question remains if a student is even worthy to hold such an office.
On paper, a candidate’s eligibility rests on whether they are 18 years-old, a resident, registered voter, pay taxes and whether they have 50 signatures by Jan. 1.
Rapoport said that the intangibles, however, are more subjective. A college student is not only qualified for office, but also represents interests unheard by city council.
“A student is more aware of some problems than non-students,” Rapoport said, dismayed by the lack of influence students hold in a city in which they make up half the population. “Students play a smaller role
here than any other college town.”
Student Assembly Undersecretary of Public Affairs to Williamsburg David Witkowsky ’11 thinks that if a student should run, he or she should be ready for the extra responsibility.
“It wouldn’t be worthwhile unless the student is particularly interested,” he said.
While no students have decided to run yet, the Jan. 1 registration deadline is approaching. In the end, if Rapoport’s idea works and a student wins a position on city council, Rapoport believes that the relationship between the city and the College will be much more open, ending what has been characterized as a tumultuous relationship between the two in the past.