Editor’s note: This is one installment in a five-part series on this year’s candidates for ASUC president. Read about the other candidates here.
He won’t be found on Sproul, reeling off scripted spiels or chasing students who have somehow slipped all the way to Sather Gate. There are no students wielding poster-sized photos of his face and shouting about his platforms in front of Golden Bear Cafe.
Self-proclaimed “idea man” Pierre Bourbonnais, ASUC presidential candidate, doesn’t see the campus as a campaign ground — rather, he envisions it as the imminent construction site for an ice skating rink and Ferris wheel, as well as a Cheese Board Collective for Lower Sproul.
• Instituting a winter formal dance
• Holding a high-profile spring concert
• Keeping libraries, RSF and
Telegraph District open 24/7
• Bolstering UCPD presence to crack
down on bike theft and violent crime
• Click here for full platform
“We believe that Berkeley is full of very smart people who would prefer to access their own information rather than having signs shoved down their throats,” says Bourbonnais, explaining his campaign rationale.
Bourbonnais may not need to approach people on Sproul, as they tend to come to him. One man approached Bourbonnais to ask if he was in fact “Mr. Winter Wonderland,” a title earned through his strong advocacy for his main platform: a winter formal for UC Berkeley students.
Despite his ambitious ideas, Bourbonnais, a political science major, is serious about his goals to improve the undergraduate experience. Backed by the BearFeed.org party he created, Bourbonnais is using satire to garner attention for his platforms.
“You can be serious about winning, and you can be serious about implementing your platforms once you’re elected by still using satire,” Bourbonnais said.
After moving from Canada to Paris at the age of 5, Bourbonnais says he was admitted to a bilingual school for drawing a particularly impressive horse during his admissions test. After his first-grade year, his family relocated once more — this time to Palo Alto.
As a freshman at UC Berkeley, Bourbonnais served as manager of the new marketing department at the The Daily Californian. By his sophomore year, he founded the Berkeley Forum, which hosts speakers and events for UC Berkeley students. As president, he fields hundreds of phone calls, sometimes skipping lecture for Berkeley Forum obligations.
This work ethic can be seen in his meticulous planning of the proposed winter formal, which would be funded by ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. Bourbonnais promises oyster catering, a 10-tiered cake and a choreographed opening ballroom dance for the event he says students will cherish for decades to come.
“For too long at Berkeley, we’ve been divided along class and college lines,” Bourbonnais said. “This can really bring a lot of Berkeley students together.”
His other platforms involve goals such as instituting police crackdowns on bicycle thefts and other crimes on campus, a website dedicated to undergraduate resources and a proposal for a constitutional amendment to lower the drinking age, among others.
“I just don’t feel as if the ASUC is really doing anything in terms of affecting individual students,” Bourbonnais said. “People say they want to do things like foster an interconnected community, but those are just fluff words.”
To carry out his platforms, he hopes to work closely with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and UC President Janet Napolitano by establishing an office in California Hall and obtaining the president’s personal phone number for weekly check-ins.
”The (ASUC) presidency is a position of power, and Pierre has a very clear set of tangible goals,” said Carter Keeling, Bourbonnais’ “executive deputy” campaign manager. “I believe they can be attained and brought on to campus.”
Rather than participate in hard campaigning, Bourbonnais and his small team have focused on an online and social media push.
In order to pursue his growing list of ideas, Bourbonnais uses the whimsical BearFeed.org website to direct traffic to his platforms. On the site, he and his team have posted several articles, including “16 Sexiest UC Berkeley Professors over 65,” which has garnered roughly 500 likes.
As president, he would build on his creative marketing strategies to fund his ambitious projects, including capital campaigns, donations from alumni and Kickstarter campaigns.
“We want the ASUC to be run like a Fortune 500 company — but also a startup at the same time,” Bourbonnais said, adding the ASUC is overrun by structural issues.
Perhaps one of Bourbonnais’ loftiest ideals is the eradication of the “corrosive” party system in the ASUC. Still, the two-party system has dominated ASUC elections, with no presidential candidate outside of CalSERVE and Student Action winning since 1995.
“There are a lot of things that could be changed about the ASUC, but I believe that having political parties encourages conversation and allows for dissent,” said Student Action presidential candidate Pavan Upadhyayula.
Bourbonnais has never actively participated in the ASUC but has worked with it through the Berkeley Forum. His lack of experience and satirical approach have drawn criticism from other candidates.
“I would say that it’s great that he’s bringing a humorous perspective, but this race needs to be taken seriously, because the ASUC should make transformative social change on campus,” said CalSERVE presidential candidate Naweed Mohabbat.
Because of Bourbonnais’ unorthodox campaign, some students have expressed confusion about whether or not he is serious. At 6 a.m. on Monday, Bourbonnais drafted a post for his official campaign Facebook page proclaiming his sincerity.
“I know that some of my ideas may sound like jokes at first, but I am 100 percent committed to implementing them,” Bourbonnais said in the post. “There’s a general view that Berkeley can’t have nice things because it’s too big or because it’s a public university … Instead of making excuses for our school’s loose culture, we should be asking ourselves more often: Why not Berkeley?”