The final 24 hours of the GUSA executive race were dominated by revelations, allegations and admissions about candidates’ membership in secret societies.
A release Tuesday night of documents and photographs implicated presidential runner-up Jack Appelbaum (COL ’14) to be a member of the Second Society of Stewards. The information, posted on an anonymous Facebook page, initiated a day of debate between campaigns and their supporters about the relevance of secret societies to the election.
Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14), who was elected GUSA vice president alongside president-elect Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) yesterday, initially denied being a member of a secret society but later admitted to his membership in an undisclosed group. Tisa, who also had denied Ramadan’s membership, conceded to knowing of it partway through the campaign.
The Facebook records also pointed to Jake Sticka (COL ’13) as a membership in the Stewards. Sticka is outgoing GUSA chief of staff and Appelbaum’s campaign manager. That drew criticism from some of the candidates, including Ramadan, who apologized for his comments after admitting involvement in a secret society himself.
Appelbaum confirmed his membership in the Stewards when the news broke. Asked if he regretted the decision not to disclose his involvement, Appelbaum said he does not believe voters have a right to know if candidates are members in secret societies.
“My campaign is separate from the Stewards Society,” Appelbaum said. “It’s a private association of mine, just like any of the other candidates might have other private associations.”
Nonetheless, the secret society disclosures may have played a role in the election outcome. In the wake of the development, Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson (SFS ’14) and Joe Vandegriff (COL ’14) announced early Wednesday morning that they were no longer encouraging supporters to rank Appelbaum and Cleary No. 2 on their ballots. Corbin-Johnson had announced the cross-endorsement along with Appelbaum at the Monday presidential debate.
“We refuse to align ourselves publicly or privately with any members of an organization that lacks transparency and accountability at Georgetown,” Vandegriff said in a statement to The Hoya.
The Appelbaum ticket received 1,210 first-place votes compared to Tisa’s 1,187, yet runoff counts were initiated when no candidate had a majority of votes. The Tisa-Ramadan ticket won in the fourth and final round by a slim 108-vote margin.
Chief Steward of the Second Society Sam Schneider (COL ’13), who is co-director of the Student Advocacy Office and a former member of The Hoya’s Board of Directors, issued a statement Wednesday morning clarifying the nature of the society and commending Appelbaum’s honesty in revealing his affiliation.
“We communicate openly with the university administration when necessary and I am available to answer any questions at any time,” he wrote. “While the Society applauds … Appelbaum’s service to GUSA, the privilege belongs entirely to him. … Jack disclosed his membership, an aspect of his private life, at the very moment he was asked. His record of public service should be all that matters to any thoughtful person weighing the merits of his candidacy.”
Appelbaum’s running mate Maggie Cleary (COL ’14) said she learned of her membership when the ticket formed, but said she did not consider it a mitigating factor in their ability to lead Georgetown’s student body effectively.
Cleary said that she did not think the Stewards had given her campaign a disproportionate level of support compared to other student organizations, and she denied that the Stewards had influenced her ticket’s platform.
Tyler Sax (COL ’13), who was a presidential candidate in last year’s GUSA race, confirmed his membership in the Stewards but denied that the leak was significant to this year’s election.
“I think it tries to make a big issue out of something that’s not a big issue. It’s sort of sad to see someone would go to these lengths to make a big deal out of something,” Sax said.
Second Society of Stewards spokesman Russell Smith (COL ’98), whose name was noted on the tax filing posted by the Facebook user, declined to comment on the leak or the reaction on campus, but emphasized that all tax records leaked were public documents.
“We try to keep our affairs private. We, like a lot of groups, do a good job of that, but these things happen,” Smith said.
University spokeswoman Stacy Kerr declined to comment on the university’s policy regarding secret societies.