Democrat fires campaign manager after Web smear

Man anonymously accused Jay Ramras of dealing cocaine

Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2008

FAIRBANKS - The Fairbanks man running against incumbent state Rep. Jay Ramras has fired his campaign manager, who used the Internet to anonymously accuse Ramras of dealing cocaine.

Democratic House candidate John Brown on Saturday fired Christian Leonhardt, 26, who has worked for two state representatives as a legislative aide.

Leonhardt posted numerous political comments on the Web site of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. One suggested he sold cocaine to children.

The postings broke an agreement the two had made to avoid using blogs or anonymous identities online as they campaign, Brown said.

Brown said Sunday he wanted to talk about Ramras' legislative record.

"I'm not going to spread rumors," he said. "That's unacceptable."

Leonhardt said he regretted damage done to Brown's campaign. He called Ramras a "good member of the Fairbanks community." He said he had posted the comments on personal time from his personal computer. Brown had nothing to do with the postings, Leonhardt said.

A Ramras spokesman characterized the allegations as "baseless."

"I actually would never have volunteered to work for (him) with the understanding that this type of allegation or accusation could be true," said Tyrone Oates, a high school vice principal and an assistant chairman of the campaign.

Ramras acknowledged he used marijuana growing up but said he has never used cocaine or sold it. He confronted Brown on Friday and demanded that Leonhardt be fired.

"To suggest that someone would sell cocaine to minors is one of the most appalling, disgusting things you can do," Ramras said.

"It just compromises a whole lifetime worth of work," he said.

Leonhardt used the name "flydaddy" to criticize Republican politicians and support Democrats. A mid-October post accused Ramras of being involved in cocaine for years and of selling it to minors, a comment Leonhardt repeated in part after the newspaper's online manager removed it for violating the site's user agreement.

Brown, 52, is in the midst of a well-funded effort to unseat Ramras.

His own campaign was damaged earlier this month when a Fairbanks resident circulated copies of Brown's 1981 guilty plea to selling cocaine to a police informant.

Leonhardt said his recent online comments aimed to defend Brown from criticism, partly by publicly raising rumors he had heard about Ramras.

The newspaper's online user agreement prohibits potentially libelous statements but lets people remain anonymous.

Ramras, 44, has never been charged with a drug crime in Alaska. He said rumors of drug involvement probably started when he delivered food for his downtown restaurant, Jaybird's Wingworld, and regularly cashed checks for small amounts of money.

Leonhardt had been an aide to Democratic Reps. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks and Sharon Cissna of Anchorage. Ramras said Leonhardt's decision to post comments anonymously online took those rumors to a higher, more "destructive" level.

"It's one thing to contend with a rumor. It's another, under the Internet banner of the News-Miner, for someone to publicly say things like this about you," he said. "You've got to be thick-skinned to be in this business. But his accusations were just way out of bounds."

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