A Candidate & Her Supporter--One and the Same?
Now that the D.C. Council has approved Mayor Adrian Fenty's takeover of the school system, the D.C. school board is about to be transformed into a toothless relic, a body so utterly powerless that one of its members has already resigned.
But next Tuesday, many Washington voters--well, maybe not so many--will go to the polls to select a new school board member in a special election to replace Victor Reinoso, who has left the board to become Fenty's deputy mayor for education.
One of the candidates for that school board seat representing Wards 3 and 4 now stands accused of being so hard up for supporters that she invented one. In an impressive bit of listserv sleuthing, the moderator of the Crestwood neighborhood e-bulletin board and a listserv called DC Urban Moms and Dads, Jeff Steele, has found evidence indicating that school board candidate Mai Abdul Rahman has been posting pro-Abdul Rahman comments, criticizing her opponents and signing the various posts as "Kindell Howard."
Steele found that Howard's posts were coming from the same computer address as Abdul Rahman's. Computer geeks tell me this is generally good evidence that the two sets of messages are coming from the same machine. For a primer on IP address spoofing, check this piece.
Confronted with this oddity, Abdul Rahman told Steele that she couldn't explain why Howard's comments might show up as coming from her computer. She described Howard as someone whose kids she had helped with their work seven years ago, but she said she was not in contact with him anymore.
Steele remained skeptical of the candidate's explanation, but tried to take her at her word. He wrote:
In our conversation, Abdul Rahman showed every sign of sincerity and a willingness to explain any misunderstandings. However, despite both our best efforts, we were unable to find any explanation for why she and Howard would repeatedly post messages originating from the same ip address.
I called Abdul Rahman and got a somewhat different version of the story. She told me that since she had spoken to Steele, she had become less certain about having met Kindell Howard. "I remember a Howard, I don't know now if it was Kindell. Frankly, I have no idea. I've done a lot of community work, giving out scholarships, and I thought maybe he was someone I knew that way."
The candidate says she did not send any email messages under a different name and would not sanction any supporter attacking her opponents under any name, real or fake. "All I do is present myself as a credible human being," Abdul Rahman told me. "I can't explain this. We have four computers in the house. I have no idea how to manipulate addresses. The people I know and love and trust feel really bad that these things are being said and I'm just really sorry that anyone who supports me would make allegations against another candidate." She singled out Martin Levine, one of the leading candidates in the race, as someone who was criticized in the Howard emails, but whom she believes has great integrity. Levine, she said, is a friend, "and is someone I would never want to see hurt by false allegations."
"I'm not going to be able to convince you or anyone that I have nothing to do with this," Abdul Rahman said. "I can't apologize for something I didn't do. I only wish I had sent an email distancing myself from the comments that were made."
I hunted around a bit for the mysterious campaign supporter. There is no Kindell Howard listed in the voter registration rolls in the District. No such person in D.C. property records. No such person in a number of databases of Washington residents. Nationwide databases produce only one person with that name, and that person lives in the Midwest.
Steele said his suspicions grew when he saw that Kindell Howard had created his Yahoo identity only a day before he started posting pro-Abdul Rahman messages on several local electronic message lists.
He found it surpassingly odd that Howard's messages talked about having been away from the listserv for a while, while Steele knew from registration records that Howard had just signed up to be a member of the site the day before writing that message.
Abdul Rahman still believes she has a "good shot" at winning Tuesday, but admits that the flap about the elusive Kindell Howard "has hurt my chances and has hurt me in my heart."
She said that despite the reduced role of the school board, she still believe that a panel that is "leaner in terms of responsibility could maybe be more effective. We can actually chart a successful path for our kids."
By Marc Fisher |
April 25, 2007; 7:55 AM ET
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