USG bans Sponzo from campaigning during first 2 days of spring election

UConn Undergraduate Student Government presidential candidate Stephanie Sponzo and her running mate, Haddiyyah Ali, are seen during a judiciary hearing in the UConn Student Union in Storrs, Connecticut on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. The USG judiciary gave the Sponzo/Ali presidential ticket two strikes for campaign violations, but they were not disqualified. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

Undergraduate Student Government presidential candidate Stephanie Sponzo has been banned from campaigning during the first two days of the spring elections, but was not disqualified after almost two hours of judicial deliberation on a campaign violation Monday.

Sponzo, current vice chairwoman of the student development committee, and commuter Sen. Haddiyyah Ali, her running mate, were accused by the two opposing presidential-vice presidential tickets of receiving an unfair advantage in campaigning by receiving an endorsement from presenter Michael Kimmel at the USG-funded “Man Up” lecture on masculinity on Feb. 16. 

They said Sponzo solicited this endorsement and that her alleged acceptance of the endorsement and actions following did not “preserve the spirit and integrity” of the organization, according to the grievance letter.

The Judiciary ruled that Sponzo “acted improperly by accepting the endorsement by Kimmel,” but this act alone was not enough to warrant the removal of her ticket from the ballot. 

Sponzo received two “strikes” against her campaign and was barred from actively campaigning and posting about her campaign during the election period on Wednesday and Thursday. She must also submit a formal apology to be published on campaign and USG social media pages and websites.

Though disappointed in the outcome, Sponzo said this was a “good compromise.”

“Obviously they were asking for a disqualification, which I felt was harsh. I ideally would have liked there to be no sanctions against my campaign because there was never any mal-intent on our part, but I understand because of the endorsement that there was an unfair advantage,” Sponzo said. 

Witnesses from both sides presented statements. Presidential candidate Daniel Byrd, one of the four individuals who filed the complaint, called on students who attended the Man Up event to speak about Sponzo’s behavior after receiving the endorsement. His fellow plaintiffs, presidential candidate Eliza Conrad and Irma Valverde, Byrd’s vice presidential candidate, testified. 

Conrad, who serves as student services committee chairwoman, was one of the plaintiffs in the case. She said she went into the hearing not hoping for any particular outcome, but to “say to the Judiciary that we felt that there was an advantage made because of the endorsement.” 

The witnesses he called said Sponzo seemed calm and did not hesitate to accept Kimmel’s endorsement or dispel the notion that she planned the event, which was actually planned by Valverde. 

“I felt that all this work just ended up being a campaign event for her,” Valverde said.

Valverde, who serves as student development chairwoman, spoke on the accusation of the spirit and integrity clause of the USG Constitution. Valverde said Sponzo told her she intended to leave the event early to campaign at a fraternity event. Sponzo denied the allegations.  She did not leave the event to campaign and said she changed her mind because she saw how that might be seen as a problem.

The Judiciary did not find Sponzo in violation of this clause. 

Byrd, who serves as external affairs committee chairman, also presented evidence suggesting that the Sponzo ticket supported the actions of senator Tim Sullivan. Sullivan was recently impeached for allegedly attempting to influence the decision of a justice to hear this case in exchange for remaining in one of two Constitutionally illegal seats. 

Byrd said Ali was seen speaking in a friendly manner to Sullivan after the hearing where Sponzo testified against him. He said one of the main points Sponzo argued in the Sullivan case was his violation of the Spirit and Integrity clause and must “hold herself to a higher standard” after being accused of violating the same clause. 

Ali said she has been friends with Sullivan since they met and a lapse of judgement and a difference on USG issues should not intrude on personal friendships. Sponzo said the cases should be kept separate and the information was not deemed relevant in this case. 

Testimony was also heard from Justin Cardoz, a member of the student development committee and another organizer of the Man Up event. He was in attendance at a dinner before the event with Kimmel, Sponzo and Kathy Fischer, associate director of the Women’s Center. He said Sponzo’s campaign came up during conversation about gender in politics, and she never petitioned Kimmel for an endorsement, nor did he offer one. 

Fischer was also present at the hearing. She said there was no “elections talk” during the evening and at no time were people remotely hoping for any kind of endorsement. 

Sponzo also presented an email from Kimmel rescinding his endorsement of her candidacy. It was argued that this could not be disseminated quickly enough to make up for the disadvantage the endorsement provided.

Conrad said she was not “rooting” for a disqualification but is supportive of the Judiciary’s decision and is hopeful of a respectful campaign moving forward. 

She said Byrd was the driving force behind the case. 

Byrd said he took charge of the accusing side because he felt that his running mate would serve the case better as a witness. 

“Although I wasn’t at the event, I didn’t want Irma to testify and run for herself,” Byrd said. “I wanted to act as the pseudo-lawyer for the two of us.”

He said he asked Conrad to join in on the case because she agreed that Sponzo had an unfair advantage in the election. 

Byrd said he is disappointed by the outcome but the judgement is fair. 

“It remedies the claim we were making that Sponzo and Ali received an unfair advantage from the endorsement,” he said. 

Sponzo said she intends to use the last day of campaigning she has to work extensively. 

“I am in no way deserving of disqualification and am willing to do anything moving forward to remedy any unfairness,” Sponzo said. “To be accused of not caring about the rules in this organization and the people in it is disheartening to me.”


Nicholas Shigo is associate news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at nicholas.shigo@uconn.edu.