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Harvard Student VP Facing Impeachment

Council Questions Campaign Finance, Mailings

By Sanjay Basu

Following accusations of campaign violations regarding buttons, lemonade, and some $97.95, Harvard’s Undergraduate Council announced Sunday that it would begin impeachment hearings against newly-elected Vice President John A. Burton.

Burton, a junior, has been accused of violating campaign rules during December’s UC elections.

Ten UC members filed two articles of impeachment against Burton, who has been accused of using over 100 buttons from the office of Harvard’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters’ Alliance without permission. Burton also allegedly handed out over 100 servings of lemonade on election day and reported costs of just $1. Burton claimed that he obtained the lemonade for no charge from the cafeteria and took buttons that were freely available to members of the public.

In an e-mail message sent to students, he wrote: “In the eyes of the average Harvard student, this is petty and disgusting ... Such ugliness over lemonade and buttons is embarrassing.”

But UC officials were most outraged by the finding that Burton and running mate Fentrice D. Driskell, a junior, distributed flyers to freshmen.

“This type of mail-dropping,” wrote impeachment supporters Kyle D. Hawkins, a sophomore, and John P. Marshall, a junior, “is a direct violation of the policy.” Burton claimed that university officials gave him permission to distribute the flyers.

Those who signed a petition against Burton include three students -- juniors Sterling P.A. Darling, Todd E. Plants and Frank X. Leonard -- who ran against Driskell and Burton in the presidential race.

According to a second article of impeachment, Burton also provided false testimony to the council’s election commission, although details of the testimony were not revealed by UC members. Some UC officers claim that Driskell and Burton had overspent their $100 campaign limit by as much as $13. The council’s election commission found that the duo’s campaign expenses amounted to only $97.95 -- $2 more than the candidates had previously disclosed.

Burton reportedly told Boston Globe reporters that “This is really about a bunch of young Republicans playing senator.”

Some critics of Burton said they signed the petition because Burton was damaging the UC’s reputation.

“John Burton epitomized everything the average student hates about the council,” Leonard said.

Impeachment articles upheld

At a meeting Sunday, former UC Vice President Samuel C. Cohen, a senior, questioned the council’s authority to remove popularly elected officials from office.

In response, Driskell, who has supported Burton throughout the ordeal, ruled that the articles of impeachment should be dismissed. Marshall and other officers supporting the impeachment articles immediately motioned for the council to overrule Driskell’s decision.

Without acquiring consensus on the issue, the council voted to overrule Driskell’s move with a vote of 34 to 22. Impeachment proceedings are scheduled to begin next Sunday.

Racism concerns enter debate

Driskell and Burton claim that they have never accused anyone of racism, but Driskell later told a Boston Globe reporter that “Racism at Harvard is a very subtle thing. It’s not a phrase to toss around lightly. But we’re beginning to wonder.”

Some students in the crowd questioned about the role of race in the impeachment debate. “I’m concerned that some motives behind the impeachment process are racially motivated,” said Adam R. Russell-Taylor, President of Harvard’s NAACP chapter.

Several members of the NAACP chapter attended Sunday’s meeting to support Driskell, who claimed that her move to dismiss impeachment was well-supported by students.

While several apologists for Burton appeared in the crowd, defenders of the impeachment proceedings were not shy to address their concerns. “In this election, I have been disgusted by [Burton’s] behavior and was very upset by the way he chose to run his campaign,” said Hawkins, Chair of the UC Finance Committee. “Burton’s actions speak for themselves.”

Hawkins joined those signing the petition for impeachment and said that he feared “ethical violations” had tarnished the UC’s image.

Supporters of the impeachment articles also quickly dismissed allegations of racism. “The petition to remove [Burton] was signed to investigate allegations of lying and stealing and cheating, not to investigate allegations of being black or white or Latino,” said junior Todd E. Plants, who sponsored the resolution calling for impeachment proceedings against Burton.