A hotly disputed conversation between a low-profile City Council candidate and the frontrunner in the San Diego mayor's race has local political circles buzzing.
On January 13th, the day of the first major mayoral debate, Councilman Carl DeMaio agreed to a breakfast meeting at downtown's St. Tropez Bakery & Bistro with fellow Republican Rik Hauptfeld, who's among four candidates for the 7th District Council seat.
DeMaio offically backs another Republican, Scott Sherman, for San Diego City Council. Whatever was said, Hauptfeld remains a potential 'spoiler' for Sherman.
Says Hauptfeld: "We want to run an honest campaign. I hope honesty is a central focus in politics. It appears that it is not."
In an interview Tuesday, Hauptfeld said the idealism that drives his independent, grass-roots campaign was jolted -- but not intimidated -- by what he claims was an effort by Carl DeMaio to talk him out of running for City Council.
He recalls DeMaio offering to back him in a school board race, or line up a position for him with the local Republican Party.
And, if neither option dissuaded Hauptfeld from the Council race, Demaio allegedly told him: "I would be branded with a scarlet 'S', as spoiler. And then a bit later I was told, by Carl DeMaio, that they would make sure that I don't hold public office in this city."
While taken aback, Hauptfeld says he considered DeMaio's approach to be "politics as usual" on the part of a seasoned public figure.
"He laid out his cards; I wasn't picking them up," Hauptfeld said. "And the conversation was basically over. He finished some breakfast he had. I finished my coffee. He paid, and we left."
DeMaio's campaign manager categorically denies Hauptfeld's allegations, and says the conversation really involved Hauptfeld asking DeMaio for advice about how to run an effective campaign.
"The councilman declined to endorse him, and explained to him why," Ryan Clumpner said in an interview at DeMaio's Murphy Canyon campaign headquarters. "It sounds to me like Rik didn't like, did not appreciate, the answer he got. I think, at the end of the day, this is just a candidate who's having a lot of trouble getting any traction, and making a desperate attempt to get some free press."
Hauptfeld says that after keeping the conversation within his staff for two months, he felt obliged to begin answering questions prompted by rumors he believes were circulating among political insiders.
DeMaio's camp scoffs at that, and says the story is self-serving.
All this first broke Monday night in "San Diego Rostra," a local Republican blog.
News outlets including NBC-7 were alerted to broad allegations of strong-arm tactics late last week.
But denials from DeMaio's campaign kept the story at bay until the specific claims came to light.
For more issues on the mayoral candidates and the issues they face, check out our elections coverage here.