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The commercialized Penn

(04/25/01 9:00am)

Down the long arrivals corridor at Philadelphia International Airport - past the security checkpoint, leading to the baggage claim - a line of bright signs and advertisements welcomes just-landed visitors to the City of Brotherly Love. One sign invites tourists to visit Holt's Cigar Shop on Walnut Street. Another welcomes visiting Amway conventioneers; still another advertises a hotel shuttle service. But one billboard looks particularly out-of-place amidst these first Philadelphia images. It doesn't display the brand of a rental car company, hotel or even directions to the taxi stand or SEPTA station. No, this billboard advertises something much more significant - a Penn education. "Get your Executive MBA at the Wharton School," the sign reads, with the business school's independent logo emblazoned bright for all passersby to see. The airport scene is hardly unique. Drivers on the Schuylkill Expressway see billboards espousing the high rankings of the Penn Health System. Area commuters can read about getting a College of General Studies education while they pass through 30th Street Station or sit in a city bus. And that Wharton MBA ad? It's recently found its way off of billboards, and into national publications like BusinessWeek. As the University's profile has grown over the last decade, so too, it appears, has its marketing potential. And so, what was once Benjamin Franklin's humble academy has become a powerful brand name. Like Coca-Cola and McDonald's, Penn is transferring its operational (read: academic) strength into the business of selling itself - to potential students, donors and even the people who already call this place home. Such practices, of course, are neither new nor unique in higher education. Universities and colleges commonly advertise their revenue-generating functions - such as health systems - and promote programs like adult education to draw support and income from their local communities. But widespread, high-quality academic commercialism is a relatively new institution. And in that enterprise, Penn is quite obviously blazing the trail. Case in point: the Wharton School's newest intercontinental venture, Wharton West. Wharton leaders say that the San Francisco arm of the business school will "serve various constituencies" who could benefit from an office on the West Coast. They say it provides students with the flexibility to pursue internships, and opens up a new market in which the school may pursue potential executive students. That may very well be true. But the primary motive behind the California branch of the University likely has more to do with expanding the Wharton name than opening up internship opportunities. The brand name, after all, is a Wharton specialty. No other school at Penn commands such independent admiration. No other school has such an identifiable logo. And no other school has made as many strides to adapt its management structure to the cutting-edge lessons on external partnerships and brand name recognition being taught in its classrooms. But one question still remains, both for Wharton and the larger University that oversees it: Is the commercialism of quality higher education a dangerous trend? If advancing the Penn name and logo works, then higher revenues and expanded resources will almost certainly serve to benefit the next generation of students. But the flip-side is dangerous. An overzealous or careless leveraging of the name may backfire, dragging those Wharton billboards - and the reputation of the University - down into the territory of the correspondence schools and commuter colleges that beg for students on late-night commercials. And that would be tragic. So far, it seems that the "Corporate Penn" is safe. Years of interaction with donors and alumni have proved that some of the best academic initiatives may actually start out in the boardroom. You may be reading this column, after all, while relaxing in Lehman [Brothers] Quad. And don't forget that Perelman Quadrangle was once meant to be the Revlon Center. Those are the success stories. The potential failures, though, could almost certainly be realized if administrators move too quickly to adapt to a marketing campaign that has little predictable direction. That's a risk that this University - which has overcome so much in the past few years to develop its academic standing - must be mindful of as it continues its quest to improve. And it's a risk that students must be mindful of, as their alma mater's reputation continues to say a lot about their own background and education.

Allegations, skepticism and the need for real justice

(04/11/01 9:00am)

This past weekend, a Penn graduate student -- one whom you've likely never met nor ever will meet -- sat down at his computer, penned a few words and dramatically changed the way many of you think about this University. His story was shocking and compelling. His sentiments, downright infuriating. And when his message drew to a close, Gregory Seaton jumped out of the world of a student and into a world of controversy. Seaton's story is one with which you are likely familiar by now. The third-year Education doctoral student claims that he was "viciously attacked" by a group of four white males while attending to business at the Campus Copy Center at 3907 Walnut Street last Tuesday. In his e-mail -- which spread like an informal wildfire across the University's listservs on Saturday -- he says, rather bluntly, that the violent altercation ensued simply because he was a black man who dared to demand equal service in a store run by whites. He contends that the primary aggressor, Ron Shapiro, treated him unfairly because of his color; and further suggests that a white professor in the store and a pair of white police officers who responded to the scene were guilty of endemic racism by not responding adequately to his cries of disparate treatment. Seaton's e-mail, understandably, was a veritable fountain of anger. He painted the picture of a scenario tainted by racism at virtually all levels -- and used the proper words and images to back them up. He quotes a lengthy Ellison description of the black man as "invisible." He says that he initially felt like he was being sent "to the back of the bus." He describes the story's players strictly as "white men" or "black men." He even portrays himself as the "savage nigger" who Shapiro and his cronies tried to put in his place. The sad truth of the matter is that Seaton could in fact be right. Racism, in one form or another, thrives in our world. It thrives in cities, in rural areas, even here at Penn. And, regrettably, it could very well thrive at Campus Copy Center. But that's a very big "could." It's a possibility that rests on a number of factors that go far beyond the emotion-laden story of one victimized student. It's a claim and an indictment that can ruin the future of a campus business, the lives of its employees and the reputation of the University that sustains it. And it's also an assumption, unfortunately, that was accepted almost universally in the first moments after Gregory Seaton's story became public. It's an assumption that has led to conflict between campus groups, a hastily-called boycott of Campus Copy and a wealth of tensions between students who, right now, should be concerned solely with the fact that one of their own was physically hurt in his visit to a local merchant. On Sunday evening, dozens of concerned students filed into the Multipurpose Room at DuBois College House to discuss the Seaton story and ways to address the injustices he alleged. Some students, rightly, said that sweeping action should wait until an investigation concluded -- or at least until Shapiro had an adequate opportunity to answer the charges. Some, with just reason, said that immediate action must be taken to isolate Campus Copy Center from the mainstream, non-racist businesses that surround it. Others seemed to be there just to gauge the feelings of their peers. All of those concerns were at least partially justified. Justice should indeed follow its normal channels toward resolution. And action of some kind must be taken now to ensure that another such story -- whether or not Seaton's account is totally accurate -- never again occurs at this University. But the DuBois meeting didn't progress this productively for long. Soon after the first few students started airing their concerns, the "student leaders" took over. And then Gregory Seaton's story became the property of a whole other entity. It became an issue of student groups vying for the right to lead the response. It became an issue of students versus police -- of a slow, cautious investigation versus a group of students demanding an immediate response. And finally, it became an issue of "Us" versus "Them" -- of an angry group of students, and a local merchant that will now forever be associated with allegations of racial violence. Maybe it was Seaton's dramatic words that forced such universal acceptance and response. Maybe it was the fact that the complainant in this story happened to be a student -- one of "Us." Maybe people were just looking for a controversy. But no matter what the reason, Gregory Seaton's claims should not have been accepted without at least a reasonable measure of skepticism. And they should never have been allowed to become fodder for petty political battles between campus groups. Right now, this issue is where it belongs -- with police investigators. And soon enough, we should know what happened; we hope to know exactly who to blame for the widespread indignation which Seaton says he faced; we will have a better idea of how we, as a community, can work to fight such injustices in the future. Until that point, though, it's important that this University lets that process of justice carry on -- and helps Gregory Seaton and the people who care about him recover from the incident that has changed a lot about the way people view themselves and the community around them.

The theft that threatens our most basic right

(03/21/01 10:00am)

Last week, a band of angry political operatives set out to destroy their local newspaper. First they fanned out into the community, picking up every copy of the paper they could find and marking them for destruction. Then they headed for the newspaper office itself, where they tried to storm their way inside and destroy the last 100 earthly copies. Sounds frightening, doesn't it? Angry political operatives. A mob converging upon the local newspaper office. The whole scenario bears a striking resemblance to the anti-press fever we'd likely associate with Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. But this scene didn't pan out oceans away. It took place in Providence, R.I. It took place at Brown University. On Friday, a coalition of offended student groups set out to steal the entire press run of The Brown Daily Herald, Brown's independent campus newspaper. The students -- who succeeded in making off with all but the last few issues of that day's edition -- were responding, they say, to an inflammatory advertisement which appeared in the paper last Tuesday. The ad, which was written by leftist-turned-conservative David Horowitz, made several outlandish and revisionist claims regarding the need to deny the payment of reparations to the families of former slaves. Horowitz's argument, essentially, was that slavery was an institution that could not be blamed on one single group, and that the payment of reparations would serve only to penalize those who had little to do with it. To prove his point, though, Horowitz relied on a number of corrupt suppositions. He notes at one point, for instance, that the failure of American blacks to achieve economic wealth can be attributed solely to "failures of individual character," rather than the lingering effects of racism and discrimination that do indeed go back all the way to the days of the slave trade. Obviously, the students at Brown had more than enough reason to be upset. A university outsider -- someone with no tangible connection to the Brown community -- had placed an egregious message in their campus newspaper advocating a number of preposterous and ignorant ideas. But instead of lashing out at Horowitz or running their own full-page ad in rebuttal, the student coalition responded in perhaps the most unproductive way possible -- they stole the newspaper. They blamed the Herald's editors for providing a means for communicating such trash and claimed that the publication wasn't accurately representing the university community. They demanded that the paper remove the name "Brown" from its name. They demanded that the paper donate the $725 advertising fee to a fund for the Third World community. And through it all -- through the spectacle which quickly gained national media attention and scrutiny -- they limited the expression of ideas on their own campus, and garnered a world of free publicity for David Horowitz and his flawed ideology. Brown isn't the only campus that has been swept up in Horowitz frenzy, however. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Badger Herald has been the target of attacks from numerous members of the campus community. Outraged students there stormed into the newspaper's office, demanded the resignation of the Badger Herald's editor-in-chief and placed an ad in a competing publication in which they referred to the paper as a "racist propaganda machine." And at the University of California-Berkeley, the quick backlash of the student body forced the Daily Californian's editorial board to run a front-page apology just days after they ran the offending ad. It should go without saying that the right of free speech is the most crucial element of a democratic society. And in keeping with that principle, even the views of men like Horowitz should fall under the broad protections of the First Amendment. But that principle, it seems, has largely been ignored by those who would go to near-fanatical lengths to prove their points. The students at Brown, and others, argue that the newspaper didn't have a responsibility to run the ad. They say that they could have rejected it -- as many other papers did -- on the grounds that its factual foundation was inherently incorrect. The Herald's editorial board chose otherwise, though. And in response, the Brown student coalition essentially set out to censor a voice which, at worst, was willing to publish an advertisement espousing views that didn't even remotely represent the popular sentiments on their campus. That decision, while controversial, is not nearly as damaging as the theft of the day's edition of the Herald. Stealing newspapers -- just like omitting crucial information from a news story or intentionally misrepresenting quotes -- is an action which leads only to the obstruction of the truth, and the further obstruction of that crucial free speech. It's a result that plagued the citizens of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. And it's a result that the Brown protesters don't seem to be recognizing. Sounds frightening, doesn't it?

A matter of experience

(02/28/01 10:00am)

Two weeks from today, I turn 21. Finally. No more rushing to New Deck to sit down before 8 p.m. No more awkward fumbling for the driver's license that I "accidentally left at home." The government finally says that I'm an adult. And that's just fine with me. I was getting tired of being a kid. Funny thing, though. When my father was 21, he had been an adult for a year or so already. And when my grandfather reached the sacred age, adulthood had been part of his life for nearly four years. In neither case, though, was their new-found maturity related to buying a beer or throwing a few bucks down on the blackjack table. So what made them so different? My father and grandfather, like so many others of the generations, were in the military. And like those thousands of others, they had the (mis)fortune of coming of age at a time when America found itself embroiled in foreign conflict. My grandfather left for the Navy in 1944, and served in the South Pacific as part of the effort to defeat Imperial Japan. My father also joined the Navy -- after a year of college -- and spent the late 1960s training to vanquish an entirely different kind of Asian nemesis. Their growing processes were far more abrupt than the dorm room goodbyes that so many of us see as the ultimate transition to adulthood. And most of them spent their formative years marching, training and preparing for an early showdown with death. I've spent my last few years sleeping late, complaining about midterms and counting down the days to spring break. And they say that we're so sophisticated these days. To say the least, America has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Our generation, in fact, is the first in a century to not have the specter of war hanging closely above our heads. Even if you count the Persian Gulf skirmish that ended 10 years ago this week, most of us can still say that those old institutions are nothing more to us than distant historical relics. We compensate for our freedom by directing our energies and passions in other ways. Most of us haven't learned leadership from a battle-scared drill instructor, after all. We learned it in management class. We rarely have to face the concept of death -- especially when it relates to those we know and care about -- and even less frequently do we have to witness such carnage on the evening news. We just read about it in our history books. And then we sit around the seminar table with our professors, spewing the vault of knowledge we possess on an era that we cannot even pretend to remotely understand. The fact of the matter is that we just aren't as grown up as we think we are. Despite our professional resumes and Ivy League educations, the majority of us are still just little kids acting all grown up. Just think about it. Think about your friend who interviewed for Goldman Sachs at 4:00, then passed out drunk after a drinking contest at 11:00 that night. And think about you're own concept of adulthood. Does the importance of legalized alcohol factor anywhere? A different era may have seen adulthood in a much different light. Maybe we're like this because there's no war to fight -- because we're the lucky (and involuntary, I might add) participants in an era of peace and relative quiet. When I came to Penn, the thought of taking up arms never even remotely entered my mind. And to all but the few dozen students who are members of Penn's Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, the same could probably be said for them. To some of those whose involvement traverses both lifestyles, there's something lost on today's youth. "Today, you have lots of folks heading off to college without even thinking of joining the military," said Marine Corps Col. John Clauer, who commands the Penn NROTC unit. "That may not be so good for the future of America." He isn't the only one echoing such sentiments. Many say that the maturing experience has been lost on our generation, since we generally haven't faced the structure and discipline that confronted our parents. Clauer, though, says it's just a matter of experience. And that experience can come from the military "The people we're getting today [in NROTC] are great young men and women," he said. "But I'm concerned because I don't think that all of the future business and political leaders -- that all of the educators and politicians -- are getting that experience of serving." Without question, America's peaceful growth has been a blessing. Our society has progressed since those bygone days, too -- socially, morally and economically. And there's thankfully little reason for college students today to abandon their studies for a battlefield somewhere. But perhaps, as we progress through the newer, safer growing process, it wouldn't hurt to take a look back once in a while and reflect upon just how much maturing we really have to do.

Coffee, eggs and community

(02/14/01 10:00am)

Oh, those rotating pies. You know what I mean. Rotating pies. And sometimes cakes, too. Lemon meringue, chocolate cream, key lime. They make their way around and around inside glass display cases, bathed in a soft fluorescent glow and beckoning passers-by to sample some of their sweet goodness. In diners and roadside hangouts all across America, rotating pies light the way to a wonderland of cheap food and, usually, even cheaper service. Like neon signs proclaiming "all baking done on premises," they set diners apart from other restaurants. They welcome patrons by saying, "Look at me! I'm a diner. I have endless streams of coffee and offer inexpensive scrambled eggs. Come in and sample!" Oh yes, rotating pies are comforting. They're an essential element of the great American diner institution. And they do their job almost everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except here at Penn. Penn, you see, is just too good for rotating pies. When University real estate officials announced several months ago that a real, honest-to-God 24-hour diner would finally be coming to campus, I reacted to the news with a mix of anticipation and cynicism. Like many Penn students, I yearned for a place to grab a cheeseburger at 3 a.m. I longed for the bright shiny glow of the diner lights. And most importantly, I looked forward to a nearby joint where I could unwind after a long day amidst the company of good friends a bottomless cup 'o joe. But by then, I had already been here long enough to know that my retail dreams almost never come to fruition. Eat at Joe's was little more than a 1950s-ish corporate nightmare. Izzy and Zoe's brought New York bagels and New York prices -- but did it all in an Albuquerque pace. And what of those other recent retail arrivals? MaJolie? Steve Madden? Pod? The Ivy Grille? All either out of my price range or out of my gender range. While Penn has prospered both financially and academically over the past 10 years, the needs of the campus community have steadily grown in importance as the University takes its place among the nation's truly elite institutions. Harvard and Princeton, after all, offer their students world-class neighborhoods to match their world-class educations. And even Yale, situated in down-on-its-luck New Haven, has managed to take its surroundings and turn them into something special. Here in University City, meanwhile, Penn spent much of the 1990s struggling with an escalating crime rate and an irate coalition of students and parents. The only way University administrators could solve the mess -- and recapture some position in the U.S. News rankings -- was to get to work on the neighborhood. Enter the Penn-controlled University City District, in 1997. A new University Police station on Chestnut Street in 1998. And, perhaps most importantly, Penn's Home Ownership Incentive Program -- an extensive effort to lure high-income University staff and faculty to the area -- also in 1998. Add those efforts to the University's continual crunch to lure upper-crust retail establishments to the area, and you've got the makings of one serious community renewal. The problem, though, is that as the streets have become cleaner and the flowers brighter, the priorities have also gotten mixed up. Penn's real estate decision-makers have become forced to leverage the desires of its low-income student body with the preferences of the big-bucks professors it wants to bring to West Philadelphia. But attractive retail destinations -- a la Harvard Square and M Street in Georgetown -- don't come together by way of corporate synthesis. And they never include the less-than-spectacular greasy spoon that 97 percent of us asked for in a 1996 Undergraduate Assembly survey. The result? The rotating pies are hanging out somewhere else, probably with the curt waitresses and 30-page menus. Our movie theaters are designed for the "independent," intellectual crowd. Our grocery stores don't even pretend to be reasonably priced. The simple truth is that we are never going to have it exactly the way we want it. A greasy spoon would drive away the prospective homebuyers; another fast food joint might disrupt the corporate card image Penn is looking to bring to the area. But not all is lost. Even despite some shortcomings, the shops and restaurants around campus do generally respond to the needs and requests of the student body. Penn's latest "diner" arrival, to be certain, isn't a diner. But so far, it's provided us with exactly what we wanted -- reasonable fare at a reasonable price. And while the nuances of the genre are left behind to its cousins on Long Island and in New Jersey, the restaurant now stands as a testament to the new Penn and the new University City -- a meeting place for the both high-profile and the high-minded. But oh, if it just had those rotating pies.

Today, red and blue. Tomorrow, just red tape.

(01/31/01 10:00am)

Pity poor John DiIulio. Just two days ago, he had everything your run-of-the-mill, superstar college professor could ask for. A cushy endowed chair at a prestigious Ivy League university. An impeccable scholastic reputation. A Rolodex of academic and political contacts worth a small fortune. Now, just 48 hours and one presidential appointment later, Penn's Patron Saint of Political Science is headed down I-95 to tackle one of the biggest political headaches ever to hit the Beltway. In taking the job as head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, DiIulio has literally thrown himself into a whole different political dimension. It's a dimension where the theory of policy meets the drama of real life. It's where success is measured in terms of dollars, cents and statistics -- not in published articles. And it's where, sadly enough, DiIulio's incredible talents may end up going to waste. The simple truth is that John DiIulio is a battle-tested academic with the intellect and the tenacity to enact some serious policy change. His success over the years, say those who have worked with him, has come because of his unique ability to blend his scholarly mind with his street savvy. When he came to Penn, in fact, Political Science Department Chair Jack Nagel said DiIulio possessed a "rare combination" of academic insights and practical knowledge. Unfortunately, the skills of a spinmeister -- rather than an academic -- are likely going to be more important in leading the nation's newest and most controversial federal program. Since Monday, when President Bush announced the new faith-based initiative while DiIulio will lead, criticism has erupted nationwide over the program, which many say poses a fundamental threat to the traditional separation of church and state. Many of Tuesday morning's editorial pages blasted the new president and his pet program. The New York Times, for one, said that the new initiative could end up "trampling the rights of all Americans and hurting even those groups it intends to help." And that wasn't even the worst of it. Considering the bold proposition of diverting federal funds to religious institutions to enact social programs, DiIulio and those in his new office can expect nothing but a continued deluge of opposition in their first few months of operation. The American Civil Liberties Union -- long an enemy of any proposal that includes the words "government" and "religion" in the same sentence -- wasted little time in declaring its own vehement opposition to the plan. "This new Bush initiative represents a faith-based prescription for discrimination," ACLU Washington Director Laura Murphy wrote in a Monday statement. "What the president is proposing will open the Bob Jones Universities of the world to receiving federal funds without any civil rights safeguards." Biting opposition like that from the ACLU can be expected to follow virtually any major political undertaking. In a Bush White House, it can be expected to erupt following almost every sentence that floats out of the president's mouth. But the opposition to this new faith-based plan will be even stronger, and will, before long, take an entirely different pathway: litigation. And that's when Penn is going to miss John DiIulio the most. Because while our students continue hearing the lectures of lesser professors, DiIulio is going to be playing the role of government negotiator, diplomat and lawyer -- hardly fitting positions for a scholar of his credentials. Maybe George W. Bush decided that DiIulio -- who vocally denounced the Supreme Court decision that handed Bush the presidency -- would make a fitting sacrificial lamb in his first try at faith-based funding. Or maybe our new president truly does believe that the professor from South Philadelphia is the right man to coordinate the challenges that will come with deciding how and when religious service groups will qualify for federal funding. One way or another, though, the first few months of the initiative are going to involve a heavy dose of wheeling and dealing -- and a significantly smaller amount of substantive policy work. DiIulio's significant scholastic strength will be wasted organizing legal and political defenses. And while we at Penn wait for the good professor to return after his six month stint -- a laughably unrealistic tenure considering the pace of activity in D.C. -- little if any serious change is going to become reality. So pity John DiIulio, for the firestorm of rhetoric and bureaucracy in which he will soon find himself. But also pity this University, for letting one of its very brightest stars float away just as he was getting warmed up.

Bush supporters still waiting for their party

(11/10/00 10:00am)

AUSTIN, Texas -- At 7 p.m. Central Standard Time, the crowd that was assembled at the corner of 11th and Congress was ready for a party. Ten thousand strong, they had come from all over the Lone Star State to celebrate a historic Election Night with their governor and hometown favorite, Republican George W. Bush. From young college students to seasoned political old-timers, they represented a surprisingly large spectrum of the political world -- even by usually homogeneous GOP standards. And as the clock wore down through the night, none of them had any idea of the political roller coaster that was in store. "I'm disappointed. Looks like it's going to be a long night," South Austin resident Bruce Felder said at about 10 p.m., when most returns still indicated that Vice President Al Gore was leading by a very thin margin. "We were hoping that it would be a quicker victory, but I'm still confident that the governor will pull it out," Felder added. While beer and soda flowed freely from the taps of curbside vendors -- and a lineup of country music acts paraded on stage to pass the time between incoming election returns -- the crowd kept their Texas-sized celebration going well into the night. They kept partying when the temperature dipped to a very un-Texas-like 40 degrees. They kept partying when CNN gave Gore an early lead in several key battleground states. They even kept partying when the country music gave way to Wayne Newton and a seemingly endless loop of taped Ricky Martin music. But through it all, most still maintained hope that the night would end with the hometown boy getting that big job in Washington. "As governor, I supported [Bush] over Ann Richards and I've been very pleased with the way he's handled our state government," Felder said shortly after CNN rescinded their early call of Bush's loss in Florida. "I was a big supporter of his dad -- even though I thought he made a few mistakes -- and I think the whole Bush family exemplifies the best family values," he added. "Gov. Bush will make an excellent president. By midnight, most of the Austin crowd was still there, still partying in the shadow of the Texas state capitol building; though noticeably bothered by the tense race and the rapidly falling temperature. But at about 1 a.m., when the skies opened up and a torrential rain fell upon the Texas capital city, most of the crowd -- especially those older than 40 -- did precisely what Bush campaign officials wanted least: They went home. So, at 1:17 a.m. CST, when the Fox News Network kicked off the evening's latest round of haphazard forecasting and declared Bush the nation's next president, the only people still left to celebrate the apparent Republican victory were a mishmosh of area college students, young Austin professionals and just a few diehard political buffs. "I'm so excited!" Austin resident Devota Swenson said. "I never thought the election would be this close. I'm cold and I'm wet, but it's definitely worth being here." Swenson's exuberance, though, was somewhat premature. While she and the 5,000 or so remaining celebrants waited out the impending arrival of the victorious candidate, someone in a polling office somewhere far away realized that Florida voters still had yet to definitively make up their minds. The crowd waited. And waited. And waited. And then, at about 3:30 a.m. -- after watching the cautiously worded addresses of Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley and Bush chairman Don Evans -- they went home, leaving the once-massive street party that never really had a reason to celebrate. The next morning, all that remained of the Election Night celebration in Austin was a group of workmen deconstructing the screens, scaffolding and media stands that had been erected to support what was expected to be a major event in American political history. But like their counterparts all over the nation, the people of Austin spent all day Wednesday just waiting -- hanging on for some indication of how the most contested presidential race in 125 years would finally turn out. While the eventual decision, it now appears, will be reached in Florida rather than Bush's home state, the people of Austin still feel they are at the center of the political universe. And they're still waiting for the party.

Watching and waiting

(11/09/00 10:00am)

AUSTIN, Texas -- More than 24 hours have now passed since the final ballots were cast in the closest presidential election in a generation. And for the first time in at least 100 years, the winner is still unknown. While officials in the state of Florida continued the painstaking task of recounting nearly six million crucial votes, Democrat Al Gore emerged victorious in the popular vote contest, outpolling Republican George W. Bush by some 97,000 votes out of 101 million cast. That would be the closest popular margin since James A. Garfield was elected president in 1880. Election officers in the Sunshine State began the required process of recounting ballots yesterday after preliminary returns indicated that Bush had defeated Gore in that state by the very thinnest of margins -- less than 1,784 votes among a total of about 5.8 million ballots cast. According to Florida law, any election decided by less than one-half of one percent must automatically go to a recount. That process began in the morning, as observers from both campaigns and the news media descended upon the state to ensure that the process was conducted under the fairest of conditions. After 32 of Florida's 67 counties were recounted yesterday, Gore had gained 843 votes, cutting Bush's lead to 941 votes.Officials have said the recount will be completed by 7 p.m. this evening. But because of widespread reports of voter irregularities throughout the state, what happens after that is anyone's guess. Bush yesterday expressed confidence that he would be named the president-elect after the recount is completed today. ''It's going to be resolved in a quick way,'' Bush said yesterday. ''I'm confident that [Dick Cheney] and I will be the president-elect and the vice president-elect.'' If Bush ends up winning Florida and Gore's lead in the national popular vote holds, Bush would be the fourth man in history -- and the first in more than a century -- to win the presidency despite coming in second in popular votes. From the very start of the presidential campaigns, the eventual outcome of the Florida race had been considered crucial in determining the next president of the United States. But the sheer magnitude of that importance wasn't known until late Tuesday night, when an extremely tight national race made it apparent that Florida's 25 electoral votes would inevitably decide which man would move into the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Should the current vote balance remain in Bush's favor when all votes are recounted -- and when a number of overseas absentee ballots are added into the mix -- the Texas governor would gain Florida's 25 electoral votes, bringing his total to 271. A candidate must obtain 270 votes in the Electoral College in order to assume the presidency. But information coming from both the campaigns and individuals in Florida indicate that the contest may not be quite over when the formal recount is wrapped up later today. Allegations of voting irregularities have popped up all over Florida since Tuesday morning, opening up the possibility of some kind of legal action once the election is finally called. In the most notable charge, about 3,400 voters in heavily-Democratic Palm Beach County have complained that a misleading ballot led them to vote for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan by mistake, rather than Gore. Some of them have already filed suit against the state. Officials from the Gore campaigns have not yet definitively said what they plan to do should the election be lost with these issues still up in the air, but Gore himself said he would respect the recount and all legal processes. "We still do not know the outcome," Gore said yesterday at a midday press conference, adding that he would abide by the Constitutional mechanism of the Electoral College choosing the president. Bush said he was confident the total would stand and promised that he and running mate Dick Cheney ''will do everything in our power to unite the nation to bring the people together after one of the most exciting elections in our nation's history.'' Bush chose a relaxed setting outside the Governor's Mansion. Gore opted for a stern-looking lectern and a row of U.S. flags as his backdrop, promising a dignified transition ''no matter what the outcome.'' President Clinton weighed in, too, saying that this election should put to rest any doubts that every vote counts. ''The American people have spoken, but it's going to take a little while to determine exactly what they said," he said after returning to the White House from New York, where First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected to the Senate. In Congress, the outlook was much more clear by last night. Republicans retained control of the Senate, but lost seats and could be stuck with the smallest possible majority. With the race in Washington still undecided, Republicans hold a 50-49 advantage. In the House, the GOP lost at least two seats but will cling to a razor-thin advantage. ''It won't be easy for whoever is president," Republican strategist Scott Reed said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bush's apparent electoral majority vanished in the early-morning hours.

(11/08/00 10:00am)

AUSTIN, Texas -- One of the closest presidential elections in American history appeared to end in a victory for George W. Bush early this morning, but though he was initially declared the victor, the race was too close to call at 4 a.m. this morning. The race hinges on the state of Florida, where only about 1,200 votes separate Bush from Democrat Al Gore, who retracted an initial concession. Whoever takes the state's 25 electoral votes will win the presidency. "Without being certain of the results in Florida, we simply cannot be certain of the results of the election," Gore campaign chairman William Daley told a cheering crowd in Nashville. If the difference between votes for Bush and Gore is within .5 percent, Florida must by law perform a recount. Overseas absentee ballots, which can come in for 10 more days and in 1996 numbered 2,200, may also sway the victory. Overall, Bush led Gore by roughly 27,000 votes out of about 100 million cast -- a difference of approximately .002 percent -- making it perhaps the closest election in American history. Just an hour after various media outlets declared Bush the victor at about 2 a.m., the Republican's supporters were stunned as news stations broadcast updated Florida tallies showing that the state was leaning back toward Gore; the Associated Press reported that the uncounted precincts were likely Democratic. The two presidential hopefuls had battled vote-for-vote almost all night -- in fact, Florida had initially been called for Gore soon after its polls closed at 8 p.m. If Bush sustains the Sunshine State victory, he will have a total of 271 electoral votes, putting him just one above the 270 vote benchmark needed to take the presidency. Early in the night, Gore's apparent victory in Florida, coupled with significant wins in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, seemed to throw the losing side of the election to Bush, who was thought to need those states to ensure a victory. But soon after Bush and his campaign staffers vocally announced their displeasure at the early Florida declaration, CNN and others took the highly unusual step of withdrawing the projection. "I know you have all these projections you're all looking at, but people are still out there actually counting votes," Bush said to a small group of reporters in the Governor's Mansion. "I just think the whole issue of calling states on the basis of exit polling is something that needs to be looked at," chief Bush strategist Karl Rove added. While a crowd of several thousand supporters braved a cold rain that sent many home early, Bush waited out the results with family in the downtown Governor's Mansion. Gore, meanwhile, was with supporters and family at his campaign headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., awaiting word on which man will next take residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When Bush's apparent victory results were announced, the crowd here in Austin erupted in a cheer that could be heard blocks away. Bush supporters filed into the two-block plaza cordoned off for the celebration and awaited what would soon be the acceptance speech of the president-elect. "I'm so excited!"Austin resident Devota Swenson said. "I never thought the election would be this close. I think this is going to be a great move for this country." But after Daley's announcement, Bush supporters were faced with the news that the victory they had waited so long for was not certain. While pundits and officials continued to make their final counts and speculate over how the election would turn out, the crowd at Bush's camp maintained a cautious optimism as they awaited what they hoped would be a final acceptance speech on behalf of their candidate. Republicans did manage to keep control of both houses of Congress, though they lost at least four seats in the Senate, with one still undecided, leaving open the possibility of a 50-50 split. The exact make-up of the next House of Representatives remained unclear as of early this morning, but Republicans are on their way to controlling both houses for their fourth consecutive Congress. In the most notable Senate contests, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Long Island Republican Congressman Rick Lazio to win the New York Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The Garden State will also be sending a new Democratic senator to Washington, as Jon Corzine triumphed over Rep. Bob Franks to win an election marred by criticisms of Corzine's record personal campaign spending. In Pennsylvania, Sen. Rick Santorum held on to his seat, as he defused a threat by former Rep. Ron Klink.

Bush notebook: Candidate settles down to watch and wait

(11/07/00 10:00am)

AUSTIN, Texas -- It's all come down to this. As voters across America head to the polls and cast ballots in one of the most hotly-contested elections in recent history, Texas Governor George W. Bush is spending most of this Election Day in the quiet company of family and friends. After a late Monday night arrival here in Austin, the Republican nominee retired to the downtown Governor's Mansion, where he spent the night talking to family and reacquainting himself with the family pets. Bush arose at about 7 a.m. Central time and immediately placed a call to his father in Houston, former President George Bush. While the younger Bush said his father was generally nervous about how the day would progress, he added it was nice to finally be done with the grueling campaign schedule. "It was like a marathon in many ways," Bush said of his campaign as he prepared to make some early-morning get-out-the-vote phonecalls. With a lineup of campaign staffers, Secret Service agents and television cameras in tow, Bush left the mansion at about 10 a.m. and headed to an Austin courthouse where he cast his own ballot. The rest of the candidate's day is largely going to be spent among family and friends, as Bush -- accompanied by wife Laura and twin 18-year old daughters -- will dine at a downtown restaurant before heading to a room at the Four Seasons Hotel to watch election results come in this evening. Vice presidential candidate and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney is expected to join Bush later this afternoon. He voted this morning in his hometown of Jackson Hole, Wyo. Both Bush and Cheney -- as well as an entourage of about 50 close friends and family members -- are expected to make their biggest public appearance of the day at around 10:20 p.m., when they head to the State Capitol ground to address an expected 20,000 supporters. Slow vote counting may be the last concern of Bush supporters in Austin, though. Heavy rains have been pelting this city off-and-on all day long, and threaten to ruin what otherwise would be an enormous celebration. But according to Bush campaign staffers, the rain has done nothing to dampen the spirits and enthusiasm of GOP backers here. "I think everyone here is very optimisitic, very upbeat," campaign spokesman Ken Lisaius said. The Bush celebration isn't expected to be the only party in town. Austin Democrats have booked the ballroom at the downtown Hyatt Hotel, and a group of Texas Green Party members plan to gather at a local bar to eat pizza, drink beer and watch the returns flow in. -- Jonathan Margulies

The view from Austin: A different pace of life in Texas city

(11/07/00 10:00am)

AUSTIN, Tex. -- In the front window of the Congress Avenue Card Shop in downtown Austin, a tacky cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley wears a white T-shirt bearing a very simple message. In blue block lettering it says: "I mailed the debate tape." To Austinites, the shirt is nothing more than a city-wide inside joke. It's a play on the still-unsolved mystery surrounding a Bush debate rehearsal tape that ended up in the hands of a Gore ally in the days leading up to the first presidential debate. Such questionable humor, of course, would likely fall upon deaf ears in every other city in America. But then again, every other city in America isn't Austin -- the small central Texas town that's been capital of the Lone Star state for 160 years and home to the presidential campaign of its governor and favorite son for all of the past two. As thousands of Bush supporters and members of the media descend upon this 500,000-person city today to celebrate and witness the GOP candidate's Election Day activities, the spotlight on Austin will shine brighter tonight than perhaps ever before. And with such attention, the focus on the city itself -- which, like Bush, tries to embody both traditional and modern ideals -- has likewise grown intense. "Things are moving a lot faster around here than they used to," Card Shop owner and lifelong Austin resident Elizabeth Wendland said. Situated just two blocks down the street from Bush's campaign headquarters, Wendland's shop has been in the same location for nearly 20 years, peddling an assortment of state-themed souvenirs -- Texas flags, Texas hot pepper sauce, framed photos of Willie Nelson. And if you ask Wendland what she's noticed most about Austin and its most famous resident over the years, she'll say that the successes of this once-sleepy town have more to do with computers than campaigns. "More than anything, this city has changed because of what [Dell Computer founder] Michael Dell has done," she said. "The technology and computer industries have really made the biggest difference in this city." She couldn't be more right. In recent years, companies like Dell have taken up residence here in the Texas capital, bringing with them an influx of money and young minds to a city traditionally known only as a college town -- home of the University of Texas at Austin. The historic brick and stucco buildings lining the sides of Congress Avenue now find themselves home to Wall Street investment firms, graphic design shops and trendy art galleries -- as well as the mom-and-pop stores and coffee shops that for years dominated Austin's small-town lifestyle. But such modernization hasn't changed the very character of the city all that much, Wendland and others said, since most Austinites still value traditional Texas values above all else. And those values -- more so than Bush's reputation or track record -- may just explain why the Texas chief executive has drawn such heavy support from his hometown neighbors. "I think he's definitely getting a lot of support here just because he's from Texas," 21-year-old Southwest Texas University senior Leeanne Thomas said, as she sipped coffee and did homework in a new downtown Starbucks. "I think his support here is basically just because he's from Texas," Wendland agreed. "He has done a good job here, but our legislature has a lot to do with that success." As Bush prepares to make his acceptance or concession speech here tonight before a crowd expected to number more than 20,000, he would likely benefit by thanking the folks back home who have formed the basis of his support from the very beginning. Because whether they worked in his campaign office, spoke out on his behalf or even just cast a ballot in his name, it's conceivable that Bush would be nowhere without the help of his hometown crowd -- as well as the 32 electoral votes that they will almost certainly cast in his favor today. Thomas said Texans' rabid support of their governor branches out into even the most unexpected of forums. "When I went to the Pearl Jam concert in Houston, Eddie Vedder was on stage talking about how great Gore was -- and everyone was booing," she said. "I couldn't imagine the crowd booing anyone else's name." Campaign officials agree that Bush has certainly taken his state by storm. "I think the state of Texas and city of Austin have been exceptionally supportive of Gov. Bush," campaign spokesman Ken Lisaius said. "Everyone on the campaign enjoys living in Austin. It's a great city -- great music, great food, great nightlife and definitely a great college town."

Down the home stretch

(11/06/00 10:00am)

AUSTIN, Texas -- As voting booths were rolled into place this weekend, the two men vying for the nation's highest office continued their ferocious battle for the electoral votes that will determine tomorrow's contest. Both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush led their respective campaigns through crucial battleground states over the weekend, wrapping up a heated race in the territories that experts say will most likely swing the election. Gore concentrated his efforts in several key midwestern states, as well as on obtaining Pennsylvania's vital 23 electoral votes -- considered by many to be the key to victory. The vice president swept through the Keystone State beginning on Wednesday, as he and running mate Joe Lieberman made frequent weekend stops at sites near Pittsburgh and Scranton and in Philadelphia. Yesterday, Gore visited several traditionally black churches in the city and urged congregants to maintain the nation's economic prosperity by voting the Democratic ticket on Election Day. "The question on the ballot is prosperity itself," Gore said yesterday during a Center City appearance. "The question on the ballot is what should we do with this prosperity." While Gore was stumping in Philadelphia, his Republican opponent was shuttling back and forth between Pennsylvania and the equally vital state of Florida -- where 25 crucial electoral votes remain up for grabs despite a heavy push from Bush's popular brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The Texas governor began his weekend with some damage control, as he attempted to manage the news that he was arrested in 1976 on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of alcohol near his parents' home in Kennebunkport, Maine. "It's an accurate story," he said during a hastily arranged news conference on Thursday night. "I'm not proud of that. I've often times said that years ago I made some mistakes. I regretted that it happened. I learned my lesson." Bush and vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney, like Gore and Lieberman, also frequented Pennsylvania, where they attracted thousands of rallying supporters in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh suburbs, as well as in the state's heavily Republican central region. Bush used one of his Pennsylvania visits to attack his opponent's campaign rhetoric. "One of [Gore's] favorite phrases is, 'You ain't seen nothing yet' -- and he's right, we haven't seen anything yet," Bush said at a rally in suburban Glendale on Saturday. Despite Bush's attack, Gore campaign officials said that they remain confident that the vice president will prevail on Tuesday. Gore campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer pointed to a Gore rally in Florida where, he said, Gore drew 12,000 supporters to a Florida rally -- compared to 5,000 that showed up to a comparable Bush event in the same area. As both candidates tear through the half a dozen or so states that will determine the election, the polls continue to show that this year may be the closest presidential contest in recent history. As of last night, the latest ABC News tracking poll, for example, shows Bush leading with 49 percent of support, compared to Gore's 45 percent and 3 percent for Green Party nominee Ralph Nader. An MSNBC/Reuters/Zogby poll, meanwhile, showed a closer race, with Bush at 46 percent, Gore at 44 percent and Nader at 6 percent. The tight race has raised the focus on the toss-up states even further, as pundits continue to speculate on the many possible state-by-state electoral outcomes. And with key states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin still very much up in the air, both candidates intend to continue their push all the way through Election Day. Bush plans on rallying the troops today in Chattanooga, Tenn., Green Bay, Wis., Davenport, Iowa, and Bentonville, Ark. He'll return home to Austin on Tuesday afternoon, where workers have erected an enormous set of risers in anticipation of the thousands of supporters and media members who are expected to descend upon the sleepy city in the next two days. After stops in Detroit and Wisconsin, Gore plans to wrap up the campaign with 30 straight hours on the stump, starting early today in Waterloo, Iowa, and ending in his hometown of Carthage, Tenn., where he'll vote Tuesday. Gore plans on watching the election results come in at his campaign office in downtown Nashville, Tenn., where workers are already busy planning for crowds that are expected to number in the thousands. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Area Senate races still neck and neck

(11/06/00 10:00am)

George W. Bush and Al Gore, step aside. In certain states, the tight presidential race is taking a backseat to the even closer competition for seats in the U.S. Senate. And with the hours ticking down until the polls open tomorrow, the intense focus continues to build on three key northeast races that still remain too close to call. Perhaps nowhere in the nation is the Senate race under closer scrutiny than in New York, where first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is battling Republican Congressman Rick Lazio, a moderate Long Islander who entered the race after New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani pulled out of the race. Clinton -- who was born in Illinois, lived in Arkansas and resided in Washington, D.C., for the last eight years -- has drawn fire from Republicans and Clinton-haters nationwide for her decision to seek the New York seat being vacated by the retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Labeling Clinton a "carpetbagger" who seeks the seat only to further her own political career, conservatives funneled money into Republican coffers and ran to the Empire State in droves to advise what they then thought would be a Giuliani candidacy. But when the well-known Giuliani dropped out of the race due to illness and a crumbling marriage, the GOP was forced to hastily organize a campaign to develop Lazio's name recognition and support among more conservative upstaters and suburban swing voters. Since then, Lazio has seen his celebrity status skyrocket, as he quickly vaulted up to virtually tie Clinton in a race that is likely to be decided by voters in suburban New York City -- a bloc that both candidates are counting on heavily to carry the state. Meanwhile, both candidates have drawn flack for allowing the tone of the campaign to become nasty and divisive -- especially on issues concerning the conflict in the Middle East. Two new polls have shown Clinton with a statistically insignificant lead over the Long Island congressman. In the neighboring state of New Jersey, a one-time landslide possibility has become surprisingly close as millionaire businessman Jon Corzine (D), whose campaign is largely self-financed, attempts to maintain his early lead over Republican Congressman Bob Franks. Corzine -- a political newcomer who has spent a record $60 million in his attempt to succeed retiring Sen. Frank Lautenberg -- has seen his lead crumble amidst criticism for his ferocious personal spending and calls that he is out of touch with New Jersey voters. "My opponent has no public record," Franks said. "What he has is money, lots of money." While the polls still show Corzine maintaining a single-digit lead, some say that the growing criticism of the race's finances -- Franks has spent just $3.5 million -- along with the surprising endorsements of Franks by the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, could give the GOP their first New Jersey Senate victory since 1972. Delaware has also produced an unexpectedly close Senate race, with five-term Republican incumbent Bill Roth, the 79-year-old chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, facing a tough challenge from a much younger Democratic challenger, Gov. Tom Carper. Both men remain tremendously popular throughout the state, but concerns have arisen lately considering Roth's health in the wake of a pair of collapses at campaign events. Doctors attributed the falls to a "middle ear dysfunction" and proclaimed the senator fit, though speculation has arisen as to whether Roth's experience and stature in the Senate are worth the risk of a potential health failure down the road. Roth continues to maintain a razor-thin lead in the polls. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Decision 2000 may come down to Pennsylvania

(11/03/00 10:00am)

Pennsylvania has always had a tough time making a big impact on the national stage. Its largest metropolis, Philadelphia, was passed over as the nation's permanent capital city. James Buchanan, a Pennsylvania native who was the nation's 15th president, is considered one of the worst chief executives in history and is best known for embroiling the country in the Civil War. And when it comes to sporting victories? Well, let's just say that the Phillies and the Pirates are still leaving much to be desired. That record of frustration may end on Tuesday, though, when America heads to the polls to select the 43rd president of the United States. With the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore still too close to call, many are saying that the voters in this state, which commands 23 crucial electoral votes, may have a big say in determining the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "If you line all the states up, from the most Democratic to the most Republican based on past voting history, you can see fairly clearly which state is likely to deliver the 270th and deciding electoral vote," Penn Political Science Department Chairman Jack Nagel said. "If states vote as they have in the past, then it is very likely that Pennsylvania could be the state that will deliver that vote," Nagel said. In the winner-take-all Electoral College system, the outcomes of most state races can be predicted weeks ahead of time. Democratic-leaning states like New York and Massachusetts have long been considered in Gore's column, while GOP-inclined territories such as Texas and Indiana fell into Bush hands almost from the start. That leaves just a handful of states as legitimate tossups for Election Day. Pennsylvania, of course, isn't alone in the category -- it's joined by such notable locales as Florida, Michigan and Missouri. But with so many votes and a track record for picking the ultimate winner -- the state has correctly voted for the presidential victor in the last seven elections -- Pennsylvania is drawing considerable attention from both of the major candidates. Both Bush and Gore have spent more than 15 days each traversing the state over the last few months, and a recent study released by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University ranked Pennsylvania first in the amount of money spent on candidates' TV ads. Campaign and party officials say the attention is well-warranted. "I think we've appropriately been the focus of the campaigns," State Republican Party Chairman Alan Novak said. "On every one of the maps, Pennsylvania always comes up as crucial because of the sheer number of votes and the fact that it's still so close here." A spokesman for the Gore campaign agreed. "Clearly, it's a critical state," Dan Pfeiffer said. "There are 23 electoral votes, and it's really a linchpin in both campaign strategies to get to 270." Pfeiffer added that the campaign is taking Pennsylvania so seriously that much of Gore's crucial last-minute campaigning time is going to be spent in the Keystone State. "Gore is going to be all over the state," he said. "He's going to be in Pittsburgh on Saturday and Philadelphia on Sunday, and Joe Lieberman will be in other parts of the state on Monday." Bush is likewise planning on making a last-minute swing to the northeast's only significant battleground state. He will visit both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on Saturday. Such heavy attention, officials say, has done much to heighten citizen awareness and involvement in the respective campaigns. "We've never seen such grassroots intensity in any campaign we've ever had here," Novak said.

Penn's preference is clear: Al Gore

(11/02/00 10:00am)

If Penn students are any indication of how Pennsylvania residents are likely to vote, Vice President Al Gore is well on his way to winning the state's hotly contested 23 electoral votes. In a Daily Pennsylvanian survey of 356 likely undergraduate voters, Democrat Gore trounced Republican George W. Bush, gaining the support of an overwhelming 67 percent of those polled. By comparison, Bush found favor with just 20 percent of respondents, and 5 percent said they would vote for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Eight percent of students said they were still undecided with a week left before Election Day. The survey, which was conducted over a three-night period ending Tuesday, has a margin of error of 5 percent. According to the heads of campus groups representing both of the major-party candidates, the results were not surprising considering the political tendencies of Penn students. "I'm glad to see that the... campus supports Al Gore's candidacy," Penn for Gore Chairman Michael Bassik said. "If you compare his stance on the issues with other leading candidates, he clearly is the best candidate for issues affecting college-age students." Even the head of the campus group representing Bush said the results were far from shocking. "I think it's to be expected on a college campus," said Penn for Bush Chairwoman Meredith Voliva, a College sophomore. "It's not any real surprise, although we have seen a favorable response among the student body." When it came to the issues, Penn students said the issue of abortion was weighing most heavily in the political debate. Sixty percent of the total respondents rated the issue as particularly important, with 75 percent of all women polled saying it is one of the most important issues facing the candidates. About half of those surveyed said they thought the candidates' tax policies are important, as is their character and integrity. The centerpiece of Bush's campaign is an across-the-board tax cut for all Americans. Gore favors a smaller, targeted tax cut for the middle class, and claims that Bush's plan unfairly benefits the wealthy and would spend all of the budget surplus. Bush has also spent much of the campaign talking about "restoring honor to the White House," a reference to the scandals of the Clinton administration. In addition to their candidate preferences, the survey also revealed that Penn students are intending to head to the polls in dramatic numbers, far in excess of the average turnout for all voters and young people in particular. Of 433 eligible voters polled, 82 percent said they intend to vote either in person or through absentee ballot in this Tuesday's election. That number stands in stark contrast to the nationwide average for voters between the age of 18 and 29, a group which more often than not tends to stay at home on Election Day. According to data provided by Youth Vote 2000, a Washington, D.C.-based group that aims to increase voter turnout among young people, less than one-sixth of all eligible 18-to-29 year-old voters cast ballots in the presidential race of 1996. And less than half of the electorate as a whole voted that year. Youth Vote 2000 representatives don't expect those numbers to change dramatically during this cycle, saying that neither of the two major candidates has done an effective job of prioritizing young voters in their campaign efforts. "We're not sure the numbers will change much," Youth Vote 2000 spokesman John Dervin said. "We're hopeful but we're also realistic. We've done more than ever, but we have to remember that it's all in the context of the $3 billion that have been spent on federal elections this year... and such a small percentage of that was dedicated to youth." Dervin added that small pockets of greater youth participation were likely -- such as in North Carolina, where changes to the law have made voter registration easier -- but the fault for youth apathy still rests with the candidates. "A lot relies on how much the campaigns reached out to younger Americans and made them a priority," he said. "The unfortunate truth is that that wasn't really the case this year." Penn students' strong support for the vice president shows a much more Democratic population than the country as a whole. According to the latest Gallup Poll of likely American voters, Gore trails the Texas governor by five points, with Bush claiming 48 percent to Gore's 43 percent. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader is polling at 3 percent, and Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan is at just 1 percent. None of the Penn students surveyed said they plan to vote for Buchanan, the arch-conservative who failed to win the Republican nomination and dropped out of the party. Besides the candidates, students also weighed in on their party of choice as well as their feelings on certain key issues confronting voters and politicians this year. Forty-seven percent of students said they were registered Democrats and, of those, 92 percent plan to vote for Gore. Registered Republicans make up 18.5 percent of respondents, and 72 percent of them plan to cast a vote for Bush. Nader supporters surfaced most frequently among registered Independents, with 10 percent of those respondents supporting the Green Party's nominee. Gore supporters have warned in recent weeks that a vote for Nader, who is almost certainly assured of losing the election, is akin to supporting Bush. But while the Nader loss is a virtual given, there is still much disagreement over how much support he will receive. "In a place like Oregon we may see support among young people for Nader as high as 10 or 20 percent," Dervin said. "I think [Nader] is a real concern... though there's a misconception that college-age students are tremendously in support of [him]," Bassik said.

Hopefuls ring up endorsements

(11/02/00 10:00am)

With Election Day just five days away, newspapers from coast to coast are rapidly announcing their candidate endorsements. So suddenly the two major presidential campaigns are beginning to spend as much energy following the papers as the papers spend trailing the candidates. How the tables have turned. "I think [newspaper endorsements] are one of many factors that can lead an undecided voter to make a final decision," Gore campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said. Pfeiffer is in a good position to know. In the last few weeks, the Gore camp -- which has struggled of late to overcome a single-digit deficit in the polls -- has picked up the endorsements of about 50 major newspapers, including significant nods from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. "In our case in particular, the endorsement of the major newspapers, like the Times and the Post, show in great detail why Al Gore is the right candidate for president and raise real questions about whether [Republican candidate] George Bush is ready for the office," Pfeiffer said. But while Gore's representatives bask in the glory of the big-name publications, their Republican counterpart has made waves by picking up several significant and unexpected endorsements of his own. In the past two weeks, Bush has received the approval of about 100 major and regional papers -- many of them which have a tradition of choosing Democrats or are located in hotly contested states. The Texas governor's candidacy has gained the favor of important battleground-state papers like the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as all the major Ohio papers and other big names like the Orlando Sentinel and the New York Post. In a surprising shift, the GOP hopeful also picked up the nod of the traditionally Democratic-leaning Oregonian in Portland, Ore., a publication that twice supported the Clinton-Gore ticket. According to one expert, the endorsement of a major newspaper can only help a candidate, though the potential effect is probably limited. "In a presidential race, I don't think newspaper endorsements sway a huge number of voters," Penn Political Science Department Chairman Jack Nagel said. "The only exception may be those voters who have yet to make up their minds in the last days before Election Day." Nagel added that the endorsements may be especially helpful this year, since the race between Gore and Bush is still so close and will probably rest in the hands of the undecideds.

Three-day teachers' strike ends

(10/31/00 10:00am)

Philadelphia school children who headed to bed Sunday night with dreams of some unplanned vacation time were awakened yesterday to a very different reality. That's because after 15 hours of marathon contract negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, city officials came to an agreement early yesterday morning that included a compromise on extending the school day by a half-hour. The agreement effectively ended the three-day-old PFT strike that threatened to shut down all 264 of Philadelphia's public schools, halting classes and activities for more than 210,000 area students. "I think it's a great deal for the union, for the children of this city, for the future of this city," Mayor John Street said after emerging from contract talks at around 5:30 a.m. yesterday. Specific terms of the contract were not disclosed, though Street added that more information would be made available later this week, perhaps after the teachers' union officially reviews and votes on the contract on Thursday. The two teams of negotiators had been working nonstop since 2 p.m Sunday to end the city's first teachers' strike since 1981. The session was their most significant meeting since the PFT members first hit the picket lines following the workday on Friday. Talks between the two groups had been ongoing for 10 months, but the lack of progress forced the city to unilaterally impose a contract this month. But with the talks going nowhere as Sunday afternoon turned into evening and then into night, hope grew dim that a settlement could be reached before the scheduled start of classes. Local media reminded Philadelphia parents to prepare for the unexpected off-day, and most area residents went to bed on Sunday with the understanding that school would be canceled the next day. That all changed, of course, when Street and PFT President Ted Kirsch made their triumphant announcement during the early morning hours at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza hotel in Center City. But according to officials from the school district, such late notice did affect attendance patterns at local schools. High schools around the city, for instance, reported attendance figures at about 50 percent -- 30 percent lower than normal. "Given the fact that people went to bed last night with gloomy predictions from the news media... we are not surprised," district spokesman Paul Hansen said. The agreement reached by the two parties will supersede the contract imposed on the PFT by Street and the School Board last month. Sources close to the talks said the city agreed to reduce the unpaid extension of the school day to 30 minutes and will now provide for a new series of seniority-based pay raises and bonuses. Street added that the deal would not require a property tax increase. He also added that the settlement will eventually help the district's attempts to obtain more state funding. Union officials, who had so vocally criticized city and school district leaders, were filled with nothing but joy as they announced the contract agreement. "I think we're very, very pleased that things really worked out in the end on a positive note," Kirsch said. Street added that now is not the time to argue over details or the contentious relations between the city and the PFT. "Let's not worry about how it all happened," Street said. "It happened and we're all delighted." The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Hundreds turn out for Nader address

(10/30/00 10:00am)

It wasn't your typical presidential campaign rally. The politicians and business leaders were conspicuously absent. The marching band stayed at home. And there wasn't so much as a touch of red, white or blue in sight. But when Green Party candidate and long-time consumer advocate Ralph Nader spoke to a group of local supporters Saturday afternoon at a Center City church, the tone quickly took the abrasive form typically displayed by the other contenders in the race for the White House. "If you're happy with politics as usual, you'll have no problem going down and voting Democrat or Republican," Nader told the vocal crowd of about 400 backers who paid $10 each to attend. "If you think politics is broken, then you'll have no problem going down on November 7 and helping the Green Party take a new stand in American politics." Nader, a famed consumer-rights advocate who first gained notoriety in the 1960s for his assault on unsafe automobiles and other products, was in Philadelphia this weekend to drum up local support for his presidential campaign. As the nominee for the left-wing Green Party, Nader's campaign is built upon a left-wing platform of environmental action, government reform and expansion of federal services such as health care. Though no one expects him to win much of the popular vote or any electoral votes, Nader is seeking to win 5 percent of the vote and thus make the Green Party eligible for federal funding in 2004. But even if he doesn't reach that plateau, he could swing several key states to the Republican column by taking votes away from Democrat Al Gore. For more than an hour, Nader discussed his philosophy on governance -- which centers heavily on the control of corporate campaign spending -- and offered a heavy dose of criticism for the two major party candidates. "Our agenda is one which challenges most corporations and special interests. Politics are for real human beings, not artificial entities called corporations," Nader said. "We need to live in a country where the government supports the workers and peasants for a change, instead of the oligarchy and corporations," he added. On several occasions, Nader related his beliefs to issues that have gained tremendous area attention in recent months, such as the push to find public funding for a pair of new sports stadiums. "Here in Philadelphia, I'm aware of two things," he said. "One is that the Phillies and Eagles are loaded with money and have plenty to build their own stadiums. And the second is that there is a great need but no money being applied to your crumbling public schools." Nader's speech was preceded by presentations from a variety of local Green Party candidates and supporters. One of the most popular speakers was Emily Quesada, a College sophomore and campus campaign coordinator, who discussed her own experiences as an activist and her disdain for the two major candidates. "I'm a student activist, and I've found over the past couple of years that students who are for social change will always keep running into a brick wall," Quesada said. "Just look at [George W] Bush. He's this idiot. He can't pronounce words right," she added. "And Gore had this election and now he can't do it. He abandoned you." While Nader's appearance in Philadelphia did not create the media and security stir that would come along with an appearance by either Gore or Bush, it did draw the attention of several protesters. Throughout the appearance, small groups of Gore supporters stood outside of the church urging Green Party voters not to cast ballots for Nader. Such a vote, they say, could only help the Republican candidate capture Pennsylvania's critical 23 electoral votes. Inside the church, though, Nader quickly dismissed such notions that a vote for him was akin to supporting the Bush candidacy. "Gore is running around the country saying a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," he said. "Can you imagine the conceit in that statement?"