As a Congressional candidate in a competitive district, Carl DeMaio has been heralded as the great gay hope of the GOP, proof positive that Republicans aren’t the party of homophobia (except, of course, they are). But along the way, DeMaio, a San Diego city councilman, ran into a problem: himself.
And it just got a whole lot worse. Just two days before the election, a second male staffer stepped forward to say that DeMaio played with himself when the staffer was in a restroom. Justin Harper, a 25-year-old Navy veteran, quit as DeMaio’s regional political director two days after the July episode allegedly occured.
“I was at the urinal, and (DeMaio) came from the stall that was closest to the urinal and was kind of just standing there hovering,” Harper told KPBS. “I turned around and realized that it was Carl. He had his pants up, but his fly was undone, and he had his hand grasping his genitals.” Harper said that he just left the bathroom in silence.
This is the second bombshell to hit DeMaio’s campaign in less than a month. Todd Bosnich, a former staffer, claims that DeMaio sexually harassed him several times, culminating in DeMaio openly masturbating in front of Bosnich. DeMaio has vehemently denied the charges, claiming that Bosnich is seeking revenge for being fired for plagiarism, an allegation that DeMaio’s former deputy campaign manager says is false.
Bosnich claimed that he was promised $50,000 by DeMaio’s campaign manager, Tommy Knepper, if he would keep his mouth shut. Since refusing, Bosnich says he’s received a series of threatening calls and emails.
The accusation from Harper is not the only time that DeMaio has been said to use a restroom for more than the usual relief. Ben Hueso, who serves with De Maio on the San Diego City Council, says he twice caught DeMaio playing with himself in a restroom stall last year.
Another former city council member, Donna Frye, went so far as to hold a press conference just three days before Harper’s revelation to say she believed that DeMaio’s alleged behavior may be more widespread than people realize.
“What I believe is that there are other victims,” Frye said. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The criticism was particularly harsh coming from Frye, who had partnered with DeMaio on a number of initiatives and was instrumental in uncovering the sexual harassment allegations against former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.
Bosnich’s accusation has been the bane of the campaign since they become public. In addition to the sexual harassment and bribery allegations, DeMaio has been subjected to a series of damaging leaked emails and has been pursuing an investigation into a break-in at his campaign office.
DeMaio has lashed out at the media and his opponent, incumbent Democrat Scott Peters. DeMaio branded the KPBS story “reckless” and “an outrageous lie,” claiming that there the urinal in question was out of order at the time Harper says the incident occurred.
DeMaio has also tried to play the gay victim card as part of his defense. “I guess you can say anything about the gay guy and some people will believe it,” he told The Hill.
Well, yes, particularly if there’s reason to believe it.
Meantime, a series of damaging emails keep dribbling out that show DeMaio in an unflattering light. For example, there was the email from DeMaio that mocked a Peters campaign staffer with a picture of a morbidly obese woman eating a chicken nugget. (It’s worth noting that the staffer, Kate Lyons, is a longtime straight ally of the LGBT community in San Diego, while DeMaio was booed when he attended the city’s Pride Parade in 2012.)
Then there’s the break-in in which a campaign playbook was stolen, a break-in to which DeMaio believes that Peters’ campaign is somehow connected. The Peters’ campaign says it got nothing from the break-in and immediately contacted police when it learned of information about it. (The San Diego district attorney’s office investigated both the break-in and Bosnich’s sexual harassment claims, but concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue either.)
Out of anger, DeMaio has abandoned the usual standards of political good sportsmanship, twice refusing to shake Peters hand after a debate.
Until Sunday, the race was neck-and-neck going into Tuesday’s election. Harper’s story won’t help DeMaio’s chances. Even if DeMaio wins, he may have a short tenure, since Democrats will turn out in far larger numbers for the presidential election in 2016. No matter what the outcome, though, the drama will continue. Bosnich is threatening to sue DeMaio.
And if the way he runs his campaign is any indication of how he will act in Congress, DeMaio will guarantee a steady stream of bad behavior to amuse and entertain his constituents.