Student body's loss could be Town's gain

I have only barely been following this year's race for Student Body President. Things have sure changed since I went to UNC over a decade ago. Fifteen student groups now issue endorsements, including the Young Democrats and the College Republicans. Both of those groups supported Tom Jensen, as did a couple of Town Council members, which I think is unprecedented.

Even with these and four other organizatons' endorsements under his belt, Jensen came third in a four-way race. Seke Ballard and Seth Dearmin will go on to a run-off election. I don't know anything about them - anyone care to enlighten us about these SBP candidates?

Meanwhile, Tom Jensen says he will move on to focusing on this year's local elections. He appears to be considering a candidacy, which is probably good news. I think students have been way under-represented in local government since the peak about 10 years ago inspired by Mark Chilton's 1991 election to the Chapel Hill Town Council at the age of 21. I know I wasn't the only student (or recent alum) serving on advisory boards in the 1990's. Where are they now? Students are an important part of our town and their input would make for better planning, transportation, recreation programs, housing policies, etc.

A serious student candidate could have a good impact on the entire community. On the other hand, it does little for a candidate's credibility when they expect to waltz into elected office without having put in some time to get to know our unique local politics. Mike McSwain, a student who ran for Town Council in 2003, clearly had good intentions but came across as a bit naive about certain issues and the election in general.

I don't know much about Tom Jensen, but he does seems to have been paying attention. Anyone know more?



Here's a link to the elections guide we put together at the DTH. Hope this helps; anyone who wants more can just peruse the DTH archives from the past couple of weeks.

-Chris Coletta, Managing Editor, DTH

Thanks, Chris! I was looking all over for the candidate websites and couldn't find them. I'll add links above.

Jensen has indeed been paying attention, and probably knows the details of many town issues inside and out. That being said, it seems unlikely that very many Chapel Hillians of either political stripe would vote for him after he was willing to pander so much in this election. He made a lot of promises that I as a conservative agreed with, but that (coupled with endorsements from what are seen as anti-university counsel members) raised a serious trust issue, which I think would defeat him in a municipal election just as easily as in the student elections.

Good showing on platform and issues.
Poor showing on honor and principles.

I also think it is probably good news that a student is considering a run for the town council.

I can only wonder if Mr. Jensen's endorsement by two current Town Council members hurt, helped or didn't matter in his run for president. I can also only wonder what I would have read on Saturday morning's CHH opinion page if a UNC-CH Trustee, say Paul Fulton or Roger Perry, endorsed a candidate for Student Body President, knowing of course that the winner would be an ex-officio member of the Trustee Board.

Does kind of make you wonder what the unprecedented (?) endorsements were all about.


I would hardly say that Tom 'pandered' in this election, especially on town issues. He stood right up, as an SBP candidate, and said that he thought the number of proposed parking spots at Carolina North was 'abominable.' Obviously speaking out against parking spots is not a popular move with the average student, but he stood by his guns even when it cost him votes. That's not pandering, it's an independent and forceful mind.

He took controversial stands on tough issues in a way no SBP candidate had before. It cost him a lot of votes, and possibly even the election- I don't know what's not to trust about a candidate who stands for things and takes the heat even when there are electoral consequences.

I don't imagine that the endorsements made much of a difference particularly given the margin of victory. Someone who knows campus politics better may correct me, but I don't have the sense that students are very tuned in to Chapel Hill political personalities.

Even though Jensen was a leader of a student group that endorsed Strom and Greene in 2003, I would expect that there is more to it than tit for tat. I don't think any of our elected officials would endorse someone who they did not think is well-qualified for the job.

What if UNC trustees tried to influence the Chapel Hill elections? Well they did try, and covertly at that, through their coordinated support of Mike McSwain in 2003. The ever-mysterious Saturday CHH morning opinion page referred to it as a "campaign finance oddity." (2/14/2004)

A trustee who lives in Chapel Hill can at least vote for a candidate that they contribute to or endorse in a Town election. As for contributions, many candidates receive contributions from non-citizens, so is that a no-no for all?

For those who are not troubled by Town Council members endorsing a candidate for student body president, could you share your reason(s)?


Jensen is a very good politician, but he is certainly no ideologue. His platform was not built around his core beliefs, but a smattering of this and a smattering of that in order to appeal to everyone. While I understand every politician does this to some extent, when Jensen came to the College Republicans forum, I simply had to ask myself "where was he in november?"

The fact is that he had done everything in his power to harm my political party, yet here he was making promises to us that were fed to him by our somewhat gullible leadership in order to win our endorsement. Most of us simply could not trust him, and had it been only two candidates, he would not have won by the narrow margin he did when our chapter voted.

My understanding is that despite his 6 endorsements, many of the organizations (but not all. LQBTQ comes to mind as one that supported him fully) did not really bring him that many votes.

SBP candiates get personal endorsements from faculty and other people who don't vote in the race, what's wrong with getting them from elected officals who are familiar with the candidate's leadership skiils?

The BOT is not comparable because the SBP is an ex officio member of that body. (There is a tradition in town of not endorsing candidates if you will have to serve alongside them, but I don't see how this relates to that.) I've seen elected officials endorse people running for other offices and no-one complains about that.

It's interesting that the DTH Election Guide showed only organizational endorsements. Is there a place where all of the individual/non-organizational endorsements are listed?

I'm one of the few students who have taken an interest in my new community (one of the 300-odd students who bothered to vote in 2003 municipal elections). Another one of those students is Tom. He's been involved in municipal elections, a town taskforce, the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club and building liaisons to the local party organization.

I'm not a student to blindly support a student candidate for Town Council (as I strongly opposed McSwain), nor am I a student to blindly support student initiatives if they are poorly researched and presented.

Tom has made a name for himself in this town as not only being informed, but being dedicated, deliberative, and honest. The comments regarding the "conservative" initiatives in the UNC race were simply dead wrong. I worked with Jensen to develop that portion of his platform, and we were working to meet a legitimate academic concern of a portion of the student body.

Jensen wasn't throwing away his values to cater to the College Republican (or any other group's) every whim. He carefully evaluated their claims and came up with solutions that were acceptable to both liberals and conservatives, like the taskforce on academic freedom. In short, he was trying to best represent all students.

You asked about the other candidates:
Seke Ballard had such initiatives on his platform as "Appoint Students to Town Council Boards and Commissions" until I let him know that the SBP has no appointment power over Town Council and that Town Council has already been very receptive to students who choose to apply for boards and commissions on their own initiative. Seke also wants to "oblige the town to acknowledge the student body as part of their constituency" whether or not students vote. I don't know how helpful storming Town Council will be and demanding they "do what we say... or else we won't vote!" haha. For more on his platform, see .

Seth Dearmin's town relations platform seems to be based primarily on asking the town to pay for his initiatives without laying the proper groundwork through building substantive relationships. He also has a platform that seeks to take credit for initiatives that are already underway or nearing completion on campus. You'd have to know about campus happenings to pick up on that though.

Neither of them make the distinction that student interests and university administration interests are not always one in the same.

But in the end, student politics are petty and we care more about John Deere tractor campaign signs or pop culture movie references in campaigns than ideas, values or concrete platform planks. I'm not sure whether Tom will decide to become more involved with town politics or not, but in any race where issues matter more than bar nights and free condoms in the dorms, Tom Jensen will prove himself to be worthy of consideration.

Pseudonymous UNC student had a good post about Tom Jensen on February 1. I would just as soon this attitude doesn't migrate into town politics.

What exactly does wanting conservative students to be comfortable speaking their minds in the classroom have to do with town politics?

Do you not think a taskforce made of liberal and conservative faculty members and students that investigated the problem of ideological discrimination and worked toward mutually acceptable solutions to the problem would be appropriate? Nothing would get forced on anyone, it would be a consensus approach to improving the academic climate at UNC, which I think any fair minded person can acknowledge could be improved.

Not that arguing over Tom Jensen's platform points is relevant anymore anyway.

this town is not a very comfortable place for those of us with conservative viewpoints. from what i've read about some of the shenanigans going on at college campuses around the country and the episode at UNC with the Kristal teacher (forgive the spelling), I can imagine that the classroom is also not a space that is welcoming to conservative viewpoints either...

Something I neglected in my first post: Here is a piece on the candidates' involvement with town politics. Glad to see the issue's sparking some interest!

I'd like to take a moment to answer the question about why the paper runs information about organizational endorsements and not individual ones.

During student elections, individual endorsements are the exception rather than the rule; this is the first student election in my memory in which Town Council candidates have expressed support for a candidate.

The candidates do list their individual student supporters on their Web sites, but these lists are not gathered by any streamlined means - some candidates list all of their friends, others list those students who signed their petitions and others allow supporters to post their own names to candidates' Web sites.

Running all of these names would be impossible for the DTH and have little meaning for constituents.

for what it is worth, when I was on the Town Council I endorsed candidates for SBP, Marcus Williams in 1974, Billy Richardson in 1976, Bill Moss in 1977. Of course, even though I stopped being a student in 1975, I was still perceived on campus as a student.

It's great to be inclusive and consensus-building -- and also independent-minded. Like some have observed here, though, I have to agree that some of Jensen's platform was more about ideological appeasement than fiercely committed values -- kind of like the national Democratic scene (which, in its effort to outdo Republicans on so-called moral integrity) is further falling apart. On the same hand, though, many "liberals" are ultimately very conservative. I'm thinking of their cowardice in protecting academic freedom and student safety on campus (e.g., selling out gay students, students of color, and progressive faculty in order to appear tolerant and unbiased).

I found a quote that might be relevent here. It's from noted war criminal Hennry Kissinger.

"University politics are vicious percisel becouse the stakes are so small"

Let me first preface this comment with my obvious bias: I worked heavily on Tom's SBP campaign, doing everything from canvassing, standing in the pit on frigid days, helping him draft his environmental and technology platform points, and designing his website.

I have known Tom for about six months now, and in those six months it has become very clear to me that Mr. Jensen is one of the most dedicated, hard-working individuals at this university. His interest in politics seems to be for all the right reasons - not for personal gain but to find and fix problems. Tom and I first met in August when he was running the UNC Young Democrats' fall campaigning schedule and I was volunteer coordinator for the NCDP/YD campus voter registration effort. Tom's determination, sweat, blood, and tears made the fall campaign work, period. We registered more students here than ever before, as best as folks who've been here longer than I have can tell me. Student turnout in the November elections was amazing - he enabled us not only to have a voice but to have an educated voice on the state and national level.

I think that it is very important to keep the momentum and political interest and involvement generated on campus from the 2004 elections alive, and there is no better way to do this than to get students involved, locally, right here. The town and university feel like they're sometimes on the two opposite ends of the earth. Students have a tendancy to treat Chapel Hill like their playground rather than their community, and the town town reciprocates this. In a town of this size, the 26,000 some odd students really should have a voice - not for the purpose of opposition but to help build this place into a community that better fits all of us.

I, for one, want to do something to improve town/university relations. I think the student population could use at least one voice on our town's governing board; Hell, I've even considered running as a candidate myself. But Tom actually has what it takes to make a student-councilman work: an ability to take a step back and look at every issue not as an "us against them issue," but as a problem with a solution which can likely be found to the benefit of all.

I fully encourage Tom to run and without a doubt feel that having him on the Town Council would be much-needed step for both student and non-student Chapel Hillians


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