[UPDATE: I told you a top building official was about to be arrested yesterday, and it should happen any time: Ron Morgan, the number-two Broward County School Board construction official, is wanted on a warrant for allegedly violating his probation, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Morgan was convicted last year of practicing without a license after I exposed his wrongdoing at the School Board (yes, this is another Pulp special). It's a minor arrest, but it gives you an idea how messed up things at the School Board really are. Speaking of which, please read the post below.]
After promising to run a clean campaign, Broward County School Board candidate Dave Thomas -- the likely favorite to fill the seat vacated by criminally charged Stephanie Kraft -- stepped in some real dirt the other day.
He responded to a voter on Facebook not under his name but from a profile with the name "Ivory Johnson."
The small but feisty group of Facebook School Board activists were all familiar with "Ivory Johnson." That was the mysterious bomb thrower and obvious Dave Thomas supporter who trashed people and used the spooky little avatar pictured at right. During the past few weeks, he had attacked Thomas' opponent, Jaemi Levine, on a number of occasions. Here's an example of Ivory Johnson's work that appeared on the since-banned Broward Cleansweep on September 18:
"OK girls, now your panties are in a bind over the BTU's snub of Jamie [sic]. You are trying to rationalize how on earth that could happen. You should also know that she was snubbed by the mayors in District 4 as well. In fact, her only elected supporter is disgraced and fired Commissioner, Patti Atkins Grad."
More recently, Ivory Johnson went after a Levine supporter this way: "Joan - you are such an angry, angry woman. No wonder you are single and BTU is your life. Sad."
There's more, but you get the picture. So when Thomas actually responded to a voter on Facebook as "Ivory Johnson" on Ivory Johnson's account, it looked like he was busted.
Dave Thomas was Ivory Johnson.
Or so it seemed. Thomas has admitted that he used Ivory Johnson's identity in the response to the voter. Inside, read his explanation and decide if it's believable.
Thomas, who teaches at J.P. Taravella High School and lives in Coral Springs, says that at the time he sent the Ivory Johnson response, he was sitting at the Tijuana Flats restaurant with a couple of former students who wanted to help him at the polls on Election Day.
That's when one of the students, whom he refuses to name, passed his laptop computer across the table to show him that an activist named Le Peerman was complaining that she had been listed as one of his campaign contributors when she hadn't contributed.
Thomas claims he sent her an explanation right there from the student's Facebook page. He only later learned that the student -- whom he describes as a 2008 graduate of Taravella High who is now majoring in political science at Florida Atlantic University -- was the pigman-avatared "Ivory Johnson" and that he had sent Peerman, who supports his opponent Levine, a message under that name.
Which, of course, meant another explanation. Here's how he explained it in another message to Peerman yesterday:
I was with a few former students who wanted to volunteer to work the polls during early voting. One of them had their computer and mentioned you "complaining" and when I inquired about what he was talking about he showed me. I immediately responded to it and hit send. The rest they say is history. Only after I hit send did I realize who he was - Ivory Johnson! I'll admit, I had been informed about some of the postings Ivory was making; Sharon and Cindy both mentioned them. But until that moment (and too late), I had no idea who he was. So...
1. Did I respond to you under the name Ivory? - Yes
2. Am I Ivory? - No
3. Is that person off facebook now? - yes
I have tried to run a clean campaign but, as you well know, it is difficult to control the actions of others, particularly if you do not know who they are. I spoke with the young man in question and he immediately deleted the account. He thought he was "protecting" me but in the end did more harm that good. He, nor the rest of the group, have any idea who the other alias posters are; but if we find, we will take similar action.
Thomas expounded on the situation today in a phone interview.
"I said [to the student posing as Ivory Johnson], 'I've heard about this person; I didn't know it was you, and I really didn't like some of the things you were saying,'" Thomas told me. "I told him that I wanted him to delete this Facebook page and that I didn't want him defending me. I said, 'I don't want you making innuendos; I don't want you doing any of that.'"
I called the Tijuana Flats restaurant on Hillsboro and State Road 7 in Coconut Creek, where Thomas said he sent the message, and asked a simple question: Does the restaurant have Wi-Fi? No, answered a waitress, who said she had tried to get online from a laptop computer there and couldn't. I told Thomas that there was no Wi-Fi there, and after a long pause, he said, "He had his computer there and I used it."
Of course, the student might have had an internet data card, so that doesn't prove anything. I told Thomas that "Ivory Johnson" sounded like someone who had a whole lot of knowledge about School Board politics and didn't seem like a novice in the game. In short, I told him it was hard to believe he was a college student (also the thought of a kid like that obsessed with the BTU, Jaemi Levine, and internecine board politics is a little sad).
"He's gifted," said Thomas. "He's majoring in political science. It is what it is, Mr. Norman. I can't undo what happened. I have his assurance that he won't go online and respond in negative tones again and that if he does he will use his real name."
Thomas did say that he might be able to arrange for the Ivory Johnson student to talk to me confidentially. But he later decided against it.
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"I'll take all the heat for it," he said. "It's me, it's my campaign, and I don't want to drag him into this any further."
OK. That's that. Without proof otherwise, you gotta take it at face value. It's not like this is a major scandal -- just an interesting snafu in a new age of cyberpolitics. Thomas has been stung in the past himself on Facebook after a grainy covert photo (which can be seen above) surfaced there showing a meeting he had with Stephanie Kraft prior to the primary vote. It bit him a second time when his new political backer was hit with criminal charges of bribery, unlawful compensation, and official misconduct.
"The whole electronic scheme, the use of Facebook, social networks, even the blogs, it brings a whole new aspect to politics," said Thomas.
And this week, he got another good lesson in its pitfalls.