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Harvard VP Survives Impeachment Votes

By Sanjay Basu

Harvard’s Undergraduate Council voted not to remove Vice President John A. Burton ’01 from office in an impeachment hearing last Sunday.

Burton was accused of taking buttons from the school’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters’ Alliance during his campaign without permission from the group’s members and of having later lied to the Council’s Election Commission. Despite these charges, Burton remains in his seat because his opponents failed to garner the necessary two-thirds needed to remove a sitting VP.

Council splits on vote

The first article of impeachment against Burton, which said that he had lied to the UC Election Commission about his use of funds, was opposed 47 to 33. 38 of the Council’s 79 voting members also voted against a second article of impeachment, which claimed that Burton had infringed upon the rights of the BGLTSA.

All three members of the UC’s Election Commission voted against the first impeachment article, claiming that Burton had not lied to them about his use of funds for a lemonade stand he had used during the campaign.

Burton’s opponents, visibly frustrated with their first loss, quickly moved to discuss the infringement on BGLTSA rights. But the alliance’s chairman Michael A. Hill ’01 testified that any of the candidates could have used the group’s buttons. Anyone can “just come in and take one,” he said.

Erica A. Farmer ’01, a Burton supporter, said that Hill’s testimony ensured the defeat of the first impeachment article.

However, Sterling P. A. Darling ’01, one of Burton’s chief opponents, said that the buttons likely gave Burton and Driskell an unfair advantage during the election.

“Do you think this was a fair election?” he asked a hissing crowd. “Those buttons could have made all the difference ... how would you feel as another candidate?”

Future problems anticipated

Given the Council’s ambivalent vote on Burton’s removal and the widely differing opinions members have on its leadership, some UC members have wondered how the Council will perform.

“It makes you wonder what’s next for us,” said Fentrice D. Driskell ’01, current UC President. Driskell ran with Burton during December’s presidential elections and has been Burton’s key supporter during the impeachment debate.

But several other supporters made their presence felt at Sunday’s meeting. Some members of the Harvard student body wore yellow ribbons to express their disgust with the impeachment articles. Others coined the slogan, “Down with Buttongate.” Several supporters also charged that The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, had presented a biased account of the impeachment.

But those opposed to Burton have pointed out that he has twice been removed from office for truancy. Both times he was elected back into his seat by popular vote.

“John Burton epitomizes everything the average student hates about the council,” said Frank X. Leonard ’01, who spoke against Burton at Sunday’s hearing.

An editorial in yesterday’s Crimson called for Burton to step down. The editorial states that “although the vote was short of the necessary two-thirds required to remove him, it highlights Burton’s unethical campaign practices and signifies a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the council ... His credibility damaged, Burton faces two options: a wasteful year-long struggle to lead a hostile council or a swift resignation from office for the good of Harvard student government. We urge him to choose the latter.”

Burton failed to comment at the meeting and was unavailable for comment later.