An anonymous Facebook profile, “StewardThroat Hoya,” has shaken up the GUSA presidential election less than 24 hours before voting begins with allegations regarding the involvement of presidential candidate Jack Appelbaum(COL ’14) in a secret society.
Documents posted to Facebook, some removed and later reposted on a newly created blog, include Google messages between members of the Second Society of Stewards. Among them are Appelbaum and Jake Sticka(COL ’13), Georgetown University Student Association chief of staff and Appelbaum’s campaign manager. Tax filings for an affiliated charitable trust were also posted.
Appelbaum confirmed his membership in the Stewards in an interview with The Hoya, although he would not provide further information about the society.
“My campaign is separate from the Stewards Society,”Appelbaum said. “They’re entirely disconnected.”
Appelbaum did acknowledge that other members of the Stewards have been active in his campaign, includingSticka, who could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. Appelbaum told The Hoya that Sticka was ill and had received treatment at Georgetown University Hospital Tuesday evening.
Asked if he regretted the decision not to disclose his membership in the Stewards, Appelbaum said he does not believe voters have a right to know if candidates are members in secret societies.
“It’s a private association of mine, just like any of the other candidates might have other private associations,” Appelbaum said. “Because it’s something that I keep private, I don’t think that I have to explain every single thing I’ve been a part of in my history.”
In the wake of the development, Shavonnia Corbin Johnson (SFS ’14) and Joe Vandegriff (COL ’14) announced 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, and the two tickets promoted it in subsequent social media posts.
“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 early Wednesday morning. “We were saddened to learn that our fellow candidates had withheld such important information from us throughout the run up to the GUSA election.”
“Secret organizations go against our values and are in no way a part of our movement. We cannot allow others to represent us and our commitment to our values when we do not agree with their actions,” Vandegriff added.
This year’s other four GUSA tickets denied responsibility for releasing the information and disavowed knowledge of its source, which remains unknown. The opposing candidates also all said they were not members of secret societies.
The Second Stewards Society issued a statement Wednesday morning in response to this article, in which the group defends its role in Appelbaum’s campaign and the integrity of his ticket.
Other than Appelbaum and Sticka, 2012 presidential candidate Tyler Sax (COL ’13) and formerGUSA director of communications Matthew Hoyt (COL ’12) are the only current or former GUSAofficials identified in the emails. Sax declined to comment, although he acknowledged he was supporting Appelbaum in Thursday’s election. Hoyt could not be reached Wednesday morning.
Appelbaum’s running mate, Maggie Cleary (COL ’14), said Appelbaum told her of his membership when they formed their ticket, a fact Appelbaum confirmed in a separate interview. She added that she does not believe the Stewards have given her campaign an unusual level of support compared to other student organizations, and she denied that the Stewards have influenced the ticket’s platform.
Appelbaum said he was troubled by the disclosure and believes it presents a distraction in the final stretch of the campaign.
“I’m concerned that something like this will ruin the legitimacy of an institution that’s been effectively built up over the last few years, and one of the reasons I was running was to maintain that legitimacy,” he said.
The Stewards’ messages, obtained from a Google group called “N.S.S.V.-XXX,” begin in May of last year. In one email, alumnus Eric Wind (SFS ’09) refers to members of the group as “Brothers of the 30th Watch.” The abbreviation “N.S.S.V.” — which also appears on the affiliated charitable organization’s tax filings — is believed to refer to the phrase non scholae sed vitae, Latin for “not for school, but for life.”
The initial conversation posted to the group, initiated by Wind, is a discussion among members of the “Watch” — the society’s equivalent of a pledge line — about purchases of ties and cufflinks for society members.
Sticka responded to the message, while Appelbaum’semail address is included on at least one message, and the candidate is directly referenced in another message. The most recent messages, dated December of last year, revolved around Sticka’s attempt to organize a social event among the Watch.
StewardThroat Hoya also posted a publicly available 2011 tax filing for The N.S.S.V. Corporation, the corporate trustee of the Stewards Charitable Trust (Second). The filing is in the care of Russell Smith (COL ’98), CEO of Chiefist, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.
The filing lists the corporation’s assets at $147,996.93 and notes that it received $16,003.90 in contributions, grants and gifts that year, as well as $2,569.13 in dividends and interest from securities.
At the same time the Facebook page was made public, editors of The Hoya received an email linking to the Facebook group and the now-private Stewards Google group where the correspondence was obtained. The message referenced the upcoming GUSA election and was signed “Steward Throat.”
That name is an apparent reference to “Deep Throat,” an anonymous source at the heart of the Watergate scandal and a central character in the film “All the President’s Men.” The owner of the Facebook account and email address that contacted The Hoya did not respond to messages requesting comment.
Current GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) could not be reached initially but issued a statement after this article was published affirming her continued support for Appelbaum.
“The idea, raised by some other candidates, that Jack’s hard work and dedication to improving life on the Hilltop is any less commendable or valid because of the recent news is absurd and insulting to me. Jack is one of the most honest, hardworking and caring people I know. I continue to respect his honesty in this matter, which is more than I can say for the other candidates in the race,” Gustafson wrote in an email.
Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) declined to comment, citing a media policy at her current internship.
Carlos DeLaTorre (COL ’13), chair of the GUSA Constitution Council, which is responsible for upholding the student association’s constitution and has done so in contested elections over the past decade, said that there are no rules barring GUSA officials from membership in secret societies.
“I think, ultimately, the student body should be made aware of such information, but I think it is up to the discretion of the candidate themselves on whether or not that information is appropriate,”DeLaTorre said. “I think that in this instance it might have been inappropriate for Appelbaum to put that information forward to the student body, nor do I think it’s a discredit to him for not putting that information forward.”
Reaction among the candidates vying to succeed Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount varied.
Upon hearing the news, presidential candidate and GUSA senate Speaker Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) said he did not see Appelbaum’s membership as a concern in the race unless it dominated his ticket’s campaign.
“I think it’s inappropriate for a candidate to rely on that work alone to win an election,” Tisa said. “I think people are free to associate with whoever they want, but if they rely on a network like that, that raises questions.”
The involvement of the GUSA executive in the Appelbaum and Cleary campaign has been a contentious issue during the race, specifically Sticka’s role as campaign manager.
Tisa’s running mate Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) said of the Appelbaum news, “It does raise the question of whether [Sticka] is doing this because he truly believes they are the best ticket or if it is for other reasons.”
“You hear about the Stewards on campus, and you suspect the usual GUSA higher-ups to be in the Stewards, but I was surprised to see concrete evidence about Jack,” Ramadan said.
Cleary had a different take on Sticka’s position in the campaign.
“I think that the reason that Jake supports us is because he knows Jack and he’s worked with him in the executive. He knows me as well, and I don’t think that this alternative group has that much of an impact on his support,” she said.
Presidential candidate Spencer Walsh (MSB ’14) declined comment beyond stating that neither he nor his running mate, Robert Silverstein (SFS ’14), are involved in secret societies.
Current GUSA senator and presidential candidate Cannon Warren (SFS ’14) said he was unaware of the leak but was not surprised that Appelbaum was identified as a Steward. “That’s pretty obvious. I was thinking Appelbaum would be one,” Warren said.
As of early Wednesday morning, the StewardThroat Hoya Facebook profile is deactivated.
Hoya Staff Writers Victoria Edel, Emma Hinchliffe, Ted Murphy, Hiromi Oka, Steven Piccione and Eitan Sayag contributed reporting.
Update 2:38 p.m.: This story has been updated to include responses from GUSA President Clara Gustafson and Chair of the GUSA Constitution Council Carlos DeLaTorre.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Appelbaum, Sax and Sticka were the only current or former GUSA officials included in the Google messages. The article has been revised to reflect that former GUSA director of communications Matthew Hoyt was also included in the conversations.