Independent candidates win majority of ASUC executive seats for 2nd consecutive year

Infographic depicting 2021 ASUC elections executive results
Flora Huynh/Staff

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Joined in excitement from behind an array of digital screens, independent candidates won the majority of ASUC executive seats for the second consecutive year during Saturday’s preliminary tabulations ceremony.

The fall semester’s executive offices will be filled by independent candidate Chaka Tellem, who ran under the ElevateCal coalition, as president; Aditya Varma, who ran with Student Action, as executive vice president, or EVP; James Weichert, who ran independently, as academic affairs vice president; independent candidate Riya Master as executive affairs vice president, or EAVP; and independent candidate Era Goel as student advocate. 

These results follow last year’s election when independent candidates won the majority of executive seats for the first time in five years, breaking a streak of party dominance in executive positions. 

“I’m feeling pretty honored to be quite frank, we had an honest campaign,” Tellem said. “My most important thing was making sure my message was heard to the student body. After that was done, it was up to the people.”

In the most competitive executive race this year, the three presidential candidates all ran in different ways, namely under the Student Action party, independently or as an independent under the newly formed ElevateCal coalition. For the first time in more than a decade, only one official party ran candidates this year.

Tellem, who served as ASUC senator and is endorsed by the Black community, received nearly 1350 votes. His platforms include campus climate and safety, environmental justice and COVID-19 response and relief. He plans to prioritize support for sexual violence and harassment survivors, as well as address housing insecurity for students. 

Following Tellem in the race with 785 votes, ASUC Senator Ronit Sholkoff, who has formerly worked at The Daily Californian, ran with Student Action. Khwal Rafique, who ran independently and served as chief of staff and director in the Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian ASUC Senate office, received the least amount of votes at 732. Diversity is a main feature of both of their platforms, along with campus resiliency. 

Tellem noted that he is proud of ElevateCal’s success in securing six candidates total across the ASUC Senate and executive races. On his first priority in office, Tellem said he wants to ensure all voices are heard, needing “all hands on deck, hands that haven’t been in the ASUC before.”

In contrast to the last four years, Varma ran unopposed for EVP, securing 1240 votes. Varma, who is the chief of staff for current ASUC Senator Ruchi Shah, ran on platforms to put students’ needs at the forefront of the ASUC and secure campus spaces for marginalized communities.

His victory represents the only partisan executive seat secured by Student Action.

I’m really grateful for all the support I got from students. It’s really impressive to see how many students showed up,” Varma said. “I’m even more excited to get into the work.”

For EAVP, Riya Master won against independent candidate Aasim Yahya by a margin of 358 votes. Previously serving as chief of staff for EAVP Derek Imai’s office, Master aims to make the UC system more affordable and increase advocacy at the campus, city and federal levels.

Master said she is very excited about the victory, being one of two women elected into the executive office. She added that her staff has been working “day in and day out” to prepare, expressing appreciation for community organizers.

In another dual candidate race, Weichert won with 1147 votes while Student Action’s Mateo Torrico received 1065 votes. Having served most recently as chief of staff in the Office of Academic Affairs, Weichert plans to push for student academic accommodations and look at issues campus faces through an equity lens. 

Feeling “ecstatic,” Weichert said this election carries a “big message” to the ASUC and beyond. He plans on continuing the work he has already done in his office, recognizing the magnitude of work ahead of him.

Unlike the 2020 election, Goel was the sole candidate in the running for student advocate, amassing 1061 votes. With extensive experience in the Student Advocate’s Office and ASUC more broadly, Goel’s priorities include advocating for mental health, strengthening the pipeline between students and professors and institutionalizing financial justice resources.

Both the ASUC Elections and Judicial councils must certify the results before they are deemed final.

Staff writers Mela Seyoum, Julie Madsen, Maya Akkaraju and Mallika Seshadri contributed to this report.

Maxine Mouly is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.