By Zainab Iqbal
Published: May 5th, 2019
The election commissioners have met and though there’s a winner, there’s still an investigation. The Excelsior obtained a copy of the minutes from the Election Commission meeting, which show that there is evidence of new USG President-Elect Carlos Jesus Calzadilla-Palacio allegedly making racist comments and a hearing will take place on Tuesday.
Here’s how election investigations work. When someone files a complaint against another candidate, the complaint goes to the Election Commission. The Election Commission is comprised of three people selected by the Student Government assembly members. On May 2nd, right after the winners were announced, the three commissioners got together for their meeting. At the time, the commissioners included Navin Rana, Kyle Larick, and Victoria Beraiah. As of now, Rana has resigned.
At the beginning of the meeting, the commissioners went over their conflict of interests.
According to the minutes, Larick is dating the treasurer candidate under Alyssa Taylor’s slate, and Rana is on the Speech and Debate team with Hamza Khilji, Corrinne Greene, and Calzadilla-Palacio. Beraiah noted no conflict of interests.
Then, the commissioners individually went over the allegations. First, the allegation against Calzadilla-Palacio in which he allegedly spread racist rumors about Khilji saying Khilji’s family comes from “oil money,” and that is why Khilji won’t be accepting the full stipend. Khilji is both brown and Muslim. The commissioners noted that this was an Islamophobic comment.
In fact, Haris Khan, USS Chairperson & CUNY Trustee (the only student on the Board), who once endorsed Calzadilla-Palacio, rescinded his endorsement three hours before the election was over.
“The current campaign season in Brooklyn College has also depicted some of the worst ways one could choose to campaign. From a Muslim candidate called ‘rich, whose father runs oil companies,’” he said. “It’s easy to say, we will stand up to the status-quo when candidates intentionally attempt to eliminate competition and engage in name-calling rather than solely focusing on promoting their vision for the office.”
“And regardless of the result of Brooklyn College’s historic election for a unified student government, Carlos and his team owes his fellow candidates a sincere apology. Democracy is about bringing people together, and those values must start from the bottom up, in student government, district leader, and county committee elections.”
According to the minutes, Greene submitted a statement of support in which she also provided text messages with Calzadilla-Palacio and a member of his campaign.
“In one of these text changes, the member of Carlos’s campaign remarked that Carlos and other members of his campaign had discussed using this rumor as a part of their campaign, but had decided against doing so,” it stated.
But after the minutes of the meeting were released, Greene withdrew her testimony. She had provided her testimony to the Commission asking for anonymity, but the Commission did not listen. She also said she never asked for an investigation, though she did file a complaint on the WBCR incident that took place last week. Nonetheless, the Election Commission decided not to further pursue an investigation into that incident.
“Students deserve accountability, and justice demands the truth regarding concerns deemed legitimate enough to pursue investigating,” Greene said. “Not cooperating with/interfering with a fair investigation is, in my view, absolutely disqualifying. Any students who are subject to a fair investigation must cooperate fully and immediately.”
She continued to say that though she is no longer partaking in any further investigation, she will confirm that a candidate told her Khilji’s family was wealthy and owned an oil company in a conversation in March.
“I’ve spoken with the person who made these comments and encouraged them to apologize—they have adamantly denied any wrongdoing/spreading rumors and have refused to do so,” she said. “I also urge a parallel investigation be conducted regarding the threats allegedly received immediately following the filing of a complaint about these rumors.”
Nonetheless, the Election Commission has already agreed to move forward with an investigation against Calzadilla-Palacio who allegedly made those comments.
“The Election Commission agrees that any evidence provided by Hamza must supersede his incentive to create a false complaint about Carlos. With multiple people supporting Hamza’s claim that Carlos is behind these rumors and with a text exchange that Carlos’s campaign indeed did discuss using this rumors to strengthen their own campaign, the Election Commission unanimously agreed to move forward with an investigation against Carlos Calzadilla-Palacio,” the minutes read.
Chris Omar, Calzadilla-Palacio’s press director, released this statement to The Excelsior in behalf of the president-elect’s campaign: “No, the rumor about Hamza was never discussed as a campaign strategy like the Elections Committee’s meeting minutes falsely state. We heard of the rumor, and shot it down immediately, considering there are multiple people on our slate who are friends with Hamza and knew that these rumors were not true.”
“That text exchange was a private conversation submitted without our knowledge, for a separate investigation. The Election Commission incompetently ignored the witness’ request to remain anonymous and to not use the text message for Hamza’s case against Carlos. The message was twisted to fit a false narrative that our campaign was spreading and using these rumors as a political strategy. What was said in the message was that we heard of the rumor, and ‘agreed to never push it.’ Meaning before we ever heard this rumor, we had already committed to running a clean and positive campaign, not saying anything negative about our opponents.”
“Our entire platform is based on standing up against injustice and prejudice of any kind. We never did and never would slander another candidate for political gain. Our goal right now is to protect democracy on campus after the students made their voices heard and overwhelmingly supported our vision for Brooklyn College.”
Calzadilla-Palacio’s campaign blamed the Commission and said it was biased. After all, at the beginning of the meeting, Larick admitted a conflict of interest—he’s in a relationship with a member of Taylor’s campaign. But despite noting the conflict of interest, Larick still got to vote on a complaint against Taylor.
“The Election Commission has received several complaints from students about receiving emails from the Taylor/Milich campaign without the consent of the recipients. Additionally, it is alleged by multiple students that the Taylor/Milich Campaign received these emails from CLAS Student Government emailing lists,” the minutes stated. But they found no violations as “It is not stated in the Elections Act that CLAS Student Government cannot provide mailing lists.” In a 2-1 decision, the Election Commission dismissed the violation.
According to Omar, “The Election Commission is extremely biased and has every incentive to invalidate our landslide victory. It is a conflict of interest to have election commissioners, elected by the assembly as per CLAS election rules, to vote on a matter involving the person that elected them. The current majority of commissioners are close personal friends of the losing campaign. For this reason, the commissioners refused to investigate Alyssa and Ethan’s use of private CLAS email lists. The election commissioners were supposed to recuse themselves in matters pertaining to their candidate but the commissioners in question failed to do so and voted against an investigation. Therefore, we have no faith in the Election Commission’s investigation as their is a clear bias.”
Calzadilla-Palacio’s campaign has now gone to social media with the hashtag #ProtectTheVote, saying, “Our election victory has been threatened by an election commission with a clear conflict of interest.” They are calling on students to email Chairperson of the College Wide Election Review Committee (C.W.E.R.C) David Wells and Vice President of Student Affairs Ron Jackson to “protect our democracy at Brooklyn College.”
“We have full faith in the procedures written in our documents to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations presented,” Taylor said. “We are confident in the commissioner’s abilities as students, who have maintained neutrality throughout the election season. The policies are strategically written to cover all basis of concerns and it is our duty to let this play out in its own way.”
So what happens next? According to the Spring 2019 Campaigns and Election Rules for Undergraduate Students at Brooklyn College, once the election is over, a hearing will be held by the Commission where each violation will be presented, along with complainants, alleged violators, and witnesses. Once the Tuesday hearing is over, the Commission will meet in an executive session.
“The Commission shall then determine beyond all reasonable doubt by majority vote whether a violation has occurred. If such a determination is made, the Commission shall then immediately determine the applicable penalties.”
There are five possible campaign penalties.
- Revocation of the offender’s candidacy. If the offender won election for office when the violation occurred, said office is to be awarded to the candidate with the next highest number of votes.
- Permanent loss of eligibility from holding any offices, elected and appointed, within student government.
- The offender shall have the right to apply for eligibility to participate in student government one year after conviction; and upon being denied may reapply for said eligibility on a yearly basis. Each application will be presented before the Commission in a public hearing.
- The Commission shall keep written minutes of all campaign violation proceedings and issue written opinions explaining he circumstances surrounding each violation conviction. These records shall be delivered to the College Wide Election Review Committee, on or before the last day of the Spring semester.
- Future Election Commissions can take into consideration previous infractions and this can choose to limit the involvement of an offender in future elections.
Decisions made by the Commission may be appealed to C.W.E.R.C. Decisions made by C.W.E.R.C may be appealed to President Michelle Anderson. Decisions made by Anderson may be appealed to the CUNY Board of Trustees.
“It feels nice to finally have actual witnesses and testimony support me. There were many people who doubted me and called me a liar without full knowledge of the situation,” Khilji said. “I am choosing to leave a lot of what I have to say for the hearing on Tuesday, but I will say that it is disappointing that despite clear evidence and testimonies of wrongdoing, there still has been no form of an apology issued whatsoever.”
“I figured there would be a limit to the BS, but I guess not. Regardless of whether an apology is issued going from this point on, I believe that actions have consequences, and I will let the investigation process enforce justice as it deems proper,” he continued.
“I will continue fighting this until the truth comes out, and it certainly will whether it be now, or months later, because cheaters never win and winners never cheat. This isn’t about me coming into office anymore. It’s about setting the record straight and holding people accountable for their wrongful actions.”