With College Park City Council elections four weeks away, candidate Stephanie Stullich’s statements about campaign alliances have caused controversy among District 3 stakeholders.
Stullich, an incumbent, is running for one of two district council seats, along with incumbent Robert Day and university graduate student Matthew Popkin, and discussions about political endorsements have highlighted underlying tensions between students and residents off the campus.
Confusion arose after an email and flier from Stullich’s campaign implied a partnership between Stullich and Day, prompting a backlash from Student Government Association leaders who recently endorsed Day and Popkin.
A public flier released by Friends of Stephanie Stullich, a political committee for the District 3 incumbent, lists fellow Councilman Day as endorsing her candidacy, although campaign alliances were still unclear when the flier was released.
When initially asked yesterday whether he had any conversations with Stullich regarding an endorsement, Day said no such interactions occurred, though he noted it is common for council members to endorse one another in the elections. Later, after a conversation with Stullich, Day said over the phone there had been a miscommunication on both sides in regard to the flier.
Day said he does not want people to read into the incident.
Stullich said she had shared a draft flier with Day — which included his name listed as an endorsement — and that Day gave his approval.
“Robert and I have been a team for the past two years,” she said, adding the two have worked in tandem as city residents for more than a decade.
Although Day had not explicitly endorsed Stullich before, he said he would do so now because she has done so much for the community.
“There is no way you don’t endorse someone like that,” Day said.
In addition to the flier, Stullich sent an email to some residents in late September that some student officials said was cause for concern. SGA President Samantha Zwerling said the email specifically draws a line pitting students against residents.
Stullich wrote that she and Day are “running as a team” for re-election and a third candidate, who she added is a “UMD student,” is running for a seat. She and Day will “have to work especially hard” in their campaign, she wrote.
“She literally said it’s us — me and Robert — against the students,” Zwerling said. “That is really, really frustrating to me.”
Last week, the SGA voted to formally endorse both Day and Popkin for the District 3 election.
When asked, Stullich said the email sent was “purely factual” and there were no attempts to distinguish the two from Popkin. Popkin’s name was withheld from the email because he had not yet announced his campaign, she added.
“I didn’t want to pre-empt him,” Stullich said.
Day said the two did not talk about the email before it was sent to constituents and that it should be clear that he doesn’t want to isolate or segregate any residents in the city.
“She wants me to say that we are running as a team,” Day said. “I don’t want to say it like that because I don’t want to jeopardize relationships elsewhere.”
Since taking office, he said, his goal on the council has been to get all stakeholders to the table, including students.
“I don’t want to upset the students; I want to represent the students,” he said. “The student body has always been misrepresented.”
The divide between students and residents has been “a pain for all of us,” Day said.
Popkin said he joined the race for a seat on the City Council to bring students and residents together and did not want to comment on the miscommunication.
“What goes on between the two of them is kind of their business,” Popkin said. “However they want to handle that is fine by me. We are running our own ship.”