A startling allegation has surfaced in what's become a bitter, increasingly hardball campaign in the San Diego mayoral race.
According to Tony Manolatos, a columnist for the Republican blog San Diego Rostra, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis tried to get Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher out of the mayor's race by offering to make him her mayoral chief of staff, and back him for mayor upon her stepping down after serving one term.
This is what Manolatos wrote in Rostra last Saturday, after reporting that Dumanis had denied she's planning to bow out of the race: “Nathan Fletcher would benefit the most from a Dumanis exit but I don’t see it happening. Way back when there were no official candidates neither (she) nor Fletcher had any luck getting the other to bow out.
"I heard Dumanis offered Fletcher a deal back then: Serve as her chief of staff and she would step down after one term and support him for mayor.”
Asked about the blog post on Monday, Manolatos downplayed its import.
"My understanding," he said in an email, "is this was a casual exchange between two people thinking about running for mayor. It was one line in a much larger blog post about media and politics, and certainly not something I see as a news story."
Even so, the assertion raises questions which – so far – have been left unanswered, directly by the parties mentioned.
In response to NBC 7 queries Monday: Dumanis' campaign issued a statement saying, on her behalf: "While some may be focused on back room deals and political spin -- I am not."
From Fletcher's campaign: "Elections aren't decided by City Hall insiders in back rooms."
Carl DeMaio's campaign took a pass on commenting.
No reply has been forthcoming from Bob Filner's team.
"Right now this is a disastrous situation for both campaigns -- for people writing out checks," says Democratic political commentator Jon Elliott, who's not connected with any mayoral campaign.
Elliott believes unsourced allegations, accurate or inaccurate, can take on a dangerous half-life in the court of public opinion.
"You get out in front of these stories right away," Elliott said in an interview with NBC 7. "You put the fire hose on it, and you move on."
Said Republican political strategist John Dadian, also unaffiliated with any mayoral campaign: "I can see a candidate standing up and pointing to another candidate and saying 'Is this true', or 'Would you do this?' et cetera. And that might cause a little bit of fireworks, but very little."
Dadian says candidate-to-candidate interactions can have serious legal implications, even if no deal is struck.
"So the first rule is," he explained, "you have to be very careful and very specific in how you say it."
Elliott says the cause of "plausible deniability" is helped if there are no witnesses to an exchange -- and, if the parties don't share the details.
Otherwise, there's the risk of leaks.
"You know, it didn't happen if it's just between Bonnie and Nathan. It harms both of them, but it benefits Nathan."