Oct. 15 2014 12:33 PM

Karma, lie detectors and the unlikelihood of happy endings

Nov. 4 will be Carl DeMaio’s ultimate moment of truth.
Photo illustration By John R. Lamb

“You cannot lie ever, because a lie destroys the credibility of the product, and credibility is more important than anything.”

—Frank Luntz

If congressional candidate Carl DeMaio keeps throwing people under the bus, it’s conceivable that one day the former San Diego City Council member will be able to count all his friends on one hand.

Fortunately for San Diego, the Twitter hashtag #masturgate emerged well before this city’s latest shove into the national media spotlight amid allegations of sexual harassment lodged against DeMaio by Todd Bosnich, his former campaign policy director. (That distinction goes to a now-deceased Canadian politician who, according to his account, had no idea he was visiting that kind of massage parlor.)

As we’ve learned from previous embarrassing episodes of local impropriety—particularly among the political class—separating fact from fiction can be not only a messy business but also an unfulfilling one devoid of a happy ending. In the end, everyone feels like lining up for decontamination.

In this instance, the alleged victim du jour—a fervent ex-DeMaio loyalist—appeared on CNN Friday to lay out in graphic detail what he described as an intensifying campaign of unwanted advances from DeMaio that culminated, Bosnich alleged, with the candidate masturbating in front of him “with a smile on his face” in the campaign office one morning last April.

Two days before the CNN story ran, reporters at a DeMaio press conference bombarded him with questions about the charges, which DeMaio dismissed as “an outrageous lie” from a former staffer who, he claimed, had committed plagiarism and was a suspect in the alleged May break-in at his campaign office.

Bosnich, in response, offered up results from an independent lie-detector test he said backed up his allegations and further claimed that DeMaio’s campaign manager, Tommy Knepper, had offered him $50,000 for his silence and a job with the local Republican Party. The DeMaio campaign, in a return volley, denied those allegations and said Knepper had passed a lie-detector test of his own.

The back-and-forth set social media ablaze—not surprising, given the timing of the bombshell as ballots began dropping in voter mailboxes. The culmination may have come when former 52nd Congressional District candidate Lori Saldaña—neither a fan of incumbent Rep. Scott Peters nor the leadership of the local Democratic Party—equated to McCarthyism CityBeat’s decision to publish an interview with Bosnich by KFMB radio personality Mike Slater that was recorded the day before the June primary but was never aired.

The Peters campaign, meanwhile, has been quiet as a church mouse on the subject, most likely following the axiom that when a political opponent is falling, let him fall on his or her own. When the opposition is debating who has the more credible lie-detector results, what can one really add to the conversation?

The real question is: How will these allegations play among voters? Clearly, those who’ve always found DeMaio to be a self-serving, egomaniacal charlatan—a “political sociopath,” as former City Council colleague Donna Frye once labeled him—will feel further emboldened that San Diego will face another Bob Filner Moment with DeMaio in office.

DeMaio’s backers, meanwhile, may feel equally emboldened, disgusted by the lateness of the charges. County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric took another tack, telling local TV station NBC 7/39 that “this is gay-baiting at its worst.” (Both DeMaio and Bosnich are openly gay.)

Bosnich claims that Knepper told him he could have avoided the problem by not telling DeMaio he was gay. Which raises the question: Huh? DeMaio’s running an ad now in which he proclaims himself to be a “proud gay American.” If what Bosnich says is true, how are other gay Republicans who work for DeMaio supposed to interpret that? Better to keep your orientation to yourself than risk unwanted advances from the candidate?

One DeMaio supporter even suggested that Bosnich was no victim. Susan Jester, president of the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, told Fox5, “I just felt, at the time, he was almost obsessed with Carl, because he was there constantly,” adding later in the same interview, “I would think Carl would’ve been filing some sort of charges about [Bosnich] stalking him because he was just always there.”

How showing up for one’s job can be equated with stalking baffles Spin, but perhaps the brains of the politically devoted are simply concussed from sexual-harassment fatigue. Comparisons to former mayor Filner’s rapid fall from grace over his own poor personal habits are inevitable, even if some would discount the correlation because Filner initially apologized for his boorish behavior and DeMaio has flatly denied his.

Not to get all the Filner haters foaming again, but let’s recall what he said when he resigned 14 months ago after a slew of apologies. “You know, I started my political career facing lynch mobs,” he said, a reference to his Freedom Rider days. “And I think we have just faced one here in San Diego. You’re going to have to deal with that. In a lynch-mob mentality, rumors become allegations, allegations become facts, facts become evidence of sexual harassment, which have led to demands for my resignation and recall.

“Those of you in the media and in politics who fed this hysteria, I think, need to look at what you helped create. Because you have unleashed a monster. I think we’ll be paying for this affront to democracy for a long time.”

In the end, both have said, in essence, “Where’s the proof?” 

As Filner suggested, proof and politics are rare bedfellows. DeMaio probably was thinking retribution, not proof, when he tweeted the word “Karma” after former City Council nemesis Ben Hueso, now a state senator, was busted for DUI in August.

Voters, as always, will have to go with their gut in November. The question remains, would a Rep. Carl DeMaio bring so much baggage to Washington, D.C., that San Diego’s needs take a back seat? That’s not a scenario for a happy ending.

Write to johnl@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.