Swamp Party, Students Party candidates debate at UF

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 2:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 2:52 p.m.

Over the 400 heads in the audience at the 8th Annual Student Government Debate, a large 3-foot-by-3-foot replica of Johnny Castillo's bearded face bobbed on a giant popsicle stick.

The giant head was passed around to different people who would wave the cut-out until their arms were too tired to hold the enormous picture of their friend.

Castillo's best friend and roommate, Mike Sanfilippo, 21, said he took three hours to make the giant head for his friend to support him in his run for student body president in the upcoming University of Florida Student Government elections Feb.19-20.

Six Student Government candidates debated each other at University Auditorium on Wednesday night. Swamp Party members Christina Bonarrigo (presidential candidate), Joselyn Rivas (vice presidential candidate) and Jayce Victor (treasurer candidate) debated Students Party candidates Johnny Castillo (presidential candidate), Jenna Goldman (vice presidential candidate) and Billy Farrell (treasurer candidate).

The debate, sponsored by the Freshman Leadership Council and co-sponsored by the Black Student Union and Hispanic Student Association, was moderated by UF journalism professor Mike Foley.

"I could be home drinking a martini and watching 'American Idol' now," Foley said. "They chose me for my personality, but they gave me a script."

The candidates debated on installing more blue-light nightime emergency phones on campus, making a blue emergency light app for smartphones, fighting higher tuition, reducing graduate-assistant fees, election-code reform, the need for transparency in Student Government, eliminating student officials' perks, SNAP services, soft bar closing and integrating Innovation Academy students, among other topics.

The debate grew tense as the subject of election codes and some Student Government officials' relationship with the press was talked about. The candidates disagreed sharply on how effective the blue light system is as opposed to calling 911 and if adding another street block to SNAP's route would make it harder to operate SNAP.

The Swamp Party cited its extensive experience in power and listed accomplishments, such as spending money on installing water-bottle refilling stations and bike repair stations as proof the party produces results.

"We've made sure we reached out to students on all platforms," Bonarrigo said. "This is not about party politics. It's about making the Gator Nation better."

Castillo said for decades, Student Government leaders' concerns have been with what they'll put on their resume, not the student body.

"The choice is about ideas between oppression or freedom, an authoritarian government or a democratic one," Castillo said. "Are you going to stand for strong, American values or the status quo?"

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