ASG in the ‘90s: Past presidents included frat stars, cult leaders


John Halloran / The Daily Northwestern (left) and Andrew Su / The Daily Northwestern (right)

‘Evil’ Dave Sheldon (left) on a return visit to campus and Nick Siebers (right) receiving the call learning he qualifies for the runoff election. Both are former ASG presidents from the ‘90s who ran on unconventional platforms, especially by the serious standards seen in ASG today.

Gabby Birenbaum, Campus Editor

This week, Associated Student Government president Izzy Dobbel, a SESP junior, will complete the first week of her term after winning an uncontested election with 75 percent of the vote. While Dobbel’s path to the presidency was fairly straightforward, past ASG presidents have come to power in a variety of ways while prioritizing different initiatives. The following is a history of two particularly unusual ASG presidents, and the elections, traditions and platforms that defined their legacies.

1995-1996: Nick Siebers

The Context: In 1995, ASG was having a rough time attracting the respect of the student body. Students perceived the organization as a space for political science majors looking to pad their resumes. In February, two months before the election, ASG president Alix Rosenthal was found to have exceeded a $75 campaign spending limit by $26.02, and chose to resign rather than face impeachment after lying about it.

The Election: Nick Siebers had two presidential campaign promises — to open an on-campus bar, and to bring either the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd to perform at Dyche Stadium — now known as Ryan Field. A Weinberg sophomore at the time, Siebers had no ASG experience and ran as an outsider. His campaign poster featured him holding bottles of alcohol on the steps of Beta Theta Pi, with a slogan of, “Is anyone else gonna try to do cool s–t? No! Why not vote for me?”

After using his campaign funds to hold a party whose costs exceeded the campaign spending limit, Siebers was removed from the ballot. But a write-in campaign launched him to 30.3 percent of the vote, sending him into a runoff with David Waldman, the ASG vice president for student services, who received 20.5 percent of the initial vote.

“I really want to make it clear that I’m not going to destroy ASG with drunken antics or anything like that,” Siebers told The Daily at the time. “I just want to have a good time, and I can get s–t done too. ASG can do something cool now maybe — maybe.”

Two days later, he returned to his apartment from studying for a midterm to find a full party in swing — he had won the runoff election with 66.6 percent of the vote, causing students to joke they’d elected Satan, The Daily’s editor-in-chief Christina Headrick told the Chicago Tribune. Siebers made a post-election commitment to getting a weekend bus service to and from Chicago for bar-hopping.

He took office to the cheers of supporters and the dismay of some in ASG.

Former speaker of the senate Ajit Phadke told The Daily voting for Siebers became the trendy thing to do on campus.

“A lot of people who don’t see ASG on a daily basis can’t relate to the things that serious candidates are talking about,” Phadke said after the election. “Getting blasted every night is something some people can plug into on a more personal level.”

Former president Rosenthal didn’t think Siebers would be able to achieve any of his goals. Nathan Kimbrell, a member of Waldman’s campaign team, expressed negativity about the state of the student body.

“This campus — they’re a bunch of sheep,” Waldman told The Daily. “It’s not ASG’s job to get people out of their rooms to have fun. ASG can’t make you have fun.”

Achievements: While becoming the first write-in candidate to win the presidency was certainly historic, Siebers struggled to follow through on his campaign promises. He found his position to be less powerful than he thought, and felt constrained by bureaucracy. By the end of the year, neither the Grateful Dead nor Pink Floyd had visited, there was no on-campus bar and no shuttles to Chicago were provided. He was able to get alcohol to be served at a University-sponsored event by separating those under and over 21, and championed an “Undie Run” for students to run through the campus with no outer layers of clothing.

“I learned that most of it’s pretty boring,” Siebers told the Tribune. “Some of it’s ridiculous — printed agendas for meetings of 10 people, having to call on people before they speak.”

Where is he now?: After graduating in 1996 with a degree in integrated sciences, Siebers moved on from the title of ASG president Siebers to Dr. Siebers. He works in the clinical research unit at Covance Laboratories in Madison, Wisconsin.

1999: “Evil” Dave Sheldon

The Context: Known to both friends and foes as “Evil Dave”, a nickname based on Sheldon’s hometown of Evanston — or Ev. Il. in the phonebook and his belief that Evanston is the center of evil in the universe — Sheldon ran a write-in campaign every year he was on campus. While his initial freshman campaign of 1996 only yielded 28 votes, Sheldon began climbing every year. He was known for staging antics at ASG debates, such as wrestling planned debate interrupters and throwing popcorn chicken at members of his campaign staff. As the ASG senator for College Bowl, Sheldon was known for proposing outrageous bills, such as one titled, “I Wrote This in 10 Minutes.”

Sheldon also garnered attention for saying he was an evil deity in charge of a cult of friends and supporters. He claimed to be a representative for ‘The People of the Lake,’ a group of half-fish, half-human residents of Lake Michigan whom he claimed were massacred by the administration when they built the Lakefill in 1964.

After running four campaigns, Sheldon began to appreciate the art of attracting voters.

“Campaigning was fun,” he told The Daily. “It was a foregone conclusion that I was going to win eventually, but the student body didn’t understand that until my senior year. They finally came around.”

1999 was the McCormick senior’s best opportunity to win — turmoil within ASG had brought cooperation to a standstill.

The Election: In 1999, Sheldon finally broke into the runoff election when he earned 23 percent of the vote to Manu Bhardwahj’s 43 percent.  After gaining endorsements from the three candidates who had not made the runoff, Sheldon emerged victorious, winning by about 250 votes.

Outgoing vice president for student services Adam Humann said Sheldon’s impact on ASG’s popularity was immeasurable.

“More students picked up The Daily and read about the ASG elections just to see what Evil Dave did,” he said.

Stephen Tiszenkel, who worked on all of Sheldon’s campaigns and was a member of his cult, said Sheldon’s unique style had universal appeal.

“Dave was all things to all people,” he said. “If you were fed up with the system, then Evil Dave was your man. But if you really cared and wanted someone passionate about the position, he had you there, too.”

Achievements: Sheldon was never able to achieve his campaign promise of getting University administrators to overturn control of the Lakefill to its rightful owners, ‘The People of the Lake.’ His lack of success can be attributed to his short time in power — Sheldon graduated about a month after his election.

Sheldon’s real achievement was his impact on ASG. Turnout fell from 3,000 votes per year whenever Sheldon was on the ballot to 2,600 in the election of 2000. Post-graduation, he still received 47 write-in votes.

Richard Caldarone, the speaker of the senate, credited Sheldon for reigniting passion for ASG and forcing members to work together.

“If I had to place one event that turned this organization around for the better, it would be Evil Dave’s election,” Caldarone told The Daily.

Where is he now? Sheldon graduated from McCormick in 1999 with a degree in computer science, and landed a job at Microsoft. He lives in Seattle, and he now works in intellectual property law for a legal firm, as the head of their patent practice group — no word on if he maintains his cult leadership status.

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