Student Association

James Franco and Tyler Rossi clash during SA presidential debate

Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

James Franco, left, and Tyler Rossi, right, went head-to-head Sunday night during a presidential debate hosted by The Daily Orange and CitrusTV.

The presidential candidates for the Student Association’s 61st session clashed at a debate on Sunday night, at some points even seeming to shock the audience with the contentious nature.

James Franco and Tyler Rossi, along with their respective candidates for vice president, took the stage in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium and fielded questions about Syracuse University’s “sanctuary campus” status and health and safety issues, among other things. Though the vice presidential candidates did not participate in the debate, they spoke during the opening statements.

Rossi sparked a visible reaction from the crowd twice during the evening, first for his opinions about sanctuary campuses and then for a comment about Angie Pati, Franco’s vice presidential candidate.

When asked for their opinions about sanctuary campuses, Franco said he was in favor of the designation — he was involved in creating the SA bill that declared the student organization’s support for designating SU a sanctuary campus. SU has so far not declared itself a sanctuary campus.

Rossi was openly against the designation and blamed Franco for what he called a failed SA bill. He said he still supported helping undocumented students in “legal” ways.

“Becoming a sanctuary campus makes us less safe,” Rossi said. “Not only does it put us on the radar, not only does it put us on the map as a target, but all federal dollars given to this university, to you, me and everyone else alike, are in jeopardy. And I feel this was a huge mistake and a huge failure, honestly, of James and the current SA administration to be transparent about this.”

Franco said Rossi’s statement showed a lack of understanding about the designation.

He said that an SA president could not be representative of all students if they aren’t supportive of the needs of those affected by the current national administration’s travel bans and immigration policies.

The two also clashed over a discussion about their vice presidents. After talking about the roles their respective vice presidents would play in the administration — which they both said would be large ones — Rossi said, “Roy has real experience. Angie does not.”

He continued to say that Pati did have important experience on campus, but his running mate, Roy Tin, had strong outside experience from working at Goldman Sachs as an intern.

This drew a sharp rebuke from Franco, who told Rossi to never talk negatively about Pati, which elicited applause from some in the audience. He fired back that experience at an investment firm would not help students or SA.

In an interview after the debate, Rossi said he apologized to Pati for his comments and didn’t mean to marginalize her experience.

“What I said came out wrong,” Rossi said. “What I simply meant to say was that I chose my running mate for his experience both in and outside of the university.”

Pati, also in an interview after the debate, said the comments showed disrespect for accomplished women and people with different experiences.

“I just think that it reflects what distinguishes Tyler from James and I, and I think that we value different experiences and we don’t see them as less than our own,” Pati said.

RELATED: Students react to first Student Association debate

The candidates aligned on other issues, though, including mental health and sexual assault. Rossi and Franco also agreed on getting students more involved in the city by partnering with community organizations.

Both Rossi and Franco suggested bringing more mental health resources directly to students. Rossi said he wanted to start a program in which graduate psychology students could provide therapy to other students. Similarly, Franco said he wanted to implement an anonymous texting service students could use when they couldn’t make it to the counseling center.

A common theme of the debate was the difference between Franco’s experience with SA and Rossi’s position as an “outsider.”

Rossi portrayed himself and Tin as candidates with significant professional experience who would give SA a new perspective. Franco pointed out that his own understanding of the finer details of the organization would allow him to be more effective early in his tenure.

“Some of the things that you’re proposing or that you mentioned about Goldman Sachs, it’s not going to help you with the bylaws and the constitution of SA … coming from someone who has that experience, you can tell what’s possible, what’s achievable and what you can do,” Franco said.

Rossi used Franco’s experience in SA against him. When discussing bylaw violations and other issues that have plagued SA this semester, Rossi said that Franco should have been addressing the issues before they happened.

Franco is the current academic affairs chair in SA and, in response to Rossi’s criticism, said he felt SA has done well from an academic affairs standpoint this year.

They both said, however, that they wanted to improve SA and restructure it. Rossi said he would review the bylaws and consider modernizing them, if needed. Franco said he would improve trust and representation by creating a multicultural committee or permanent liaisons to include more people in SA’s decisions.


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