SAN DIEGO - What started as a lurid allegation in an Orange County publication grew Wednesday into a major dispute between two former San Diego City Council members, one of whom is considering a second run for mayor.
Ben Hueso, now a Democratic state senator, reiterated his claim printed in the Voice of OC last week that he caught then-Councilman Carl DeMaio masturbating in a City Hall men's room during a council meeting.
DeMaio strongly denied the allegation, and said two other council members can back him up.
Hueso said he caught DeMaio in 2009 after he left the dais during a council meeting.
According to the article, Hueso said DeMaio was "caught by surprise" and jumped when he walked in, and ran out after apologizing. Councilwoman Marti Emerald told the publication she saw Hueso come out of the restroom with a shocked expression, and he told her what happened.
DeMaio publicly denounced the allegations Wednesday.
"I will not allow a dirty lie to bring shame on myself or San Diego," he said, addressing a crowd of reporters and photographers at a news conference. "The government unions who put Bob Filner into office are putting San Diego through this ... it's all an attempt to play dirty politics."
DeMaio said he took a lie detector test to disprove the allegations.
10News was not allowed to make a copy of the polygraph test or shoot the documents. However, 10News was able to obtain a copy and review it.
Paul Reed, the polygraph examiner who administered five examinations, asked DeMaio the following questions:
1. Can you now recall masturbating in a San Diego City Council Chamber restroom when Ben Hueso walked in on you?
2. Did Ben Hueso ever see you masturbate?
DeMaio answered "no" to both questions.
At the conclusion of the polygraph examination, Reed determined DeMaio's "physiological responses generally associated with truthfulness," and ruled "the subject was not attempting deception" when he answered "no."
But Hueso issued a statement Wednesday standing by his allegation.
"I was asked by the reporter if I witnessed an incident involving Council Member Carl DeMaio and I answered truthfully," Hueso said in an email to 10News. "I would never maliciously disparage a person's character or impede their future with false or misleading information. This was difficult to share and I have nothing further to add."
A DeMaio campaign spokesman, Dave McCulloch, said "it is pathetic that Ben Hueso is digging a deeper hole of shame here. This is no longer Carl's word against Ben Hueso's. Carl has passed a polygraph, and more importantly, council members Tony Young and Todd Gloria have issued statements refuting Hueso's story alleging that Young witnessed this."
An aide to Emerald confirmed the account in the Voice of OC story to CNS.
DeMaio's attorneys have sent a letter to the Voice of OC demanding a correction, but Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana stands by the story.
"We thought the people of San Diego have a right to know this information," Santana explained in a Skype interview with 10News. "My understanding is [our] reporter approached Ben [Hueso] ... I think everybody in the country is asking themselves, how did you not know this during the campaign?"
Council President Todd Gloria did not witness anything like what has been alleged, his spokeswoman told City News Service.
The article also quoted Hueso, who said former councilman Tony Young corroborated his story. But Young told 10News in an email he never witnessed DeMaio do anything inappropriate as a councilmember.
DeMaio had begun a campaign to oust Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, before Mayor Bob Filner resigned over his own alleged sexual improprieties.
He said at a news conference he would talk to supporters over the holiday weekend before deciding whether to join the mayor's race.
Meanwhile, DeMaio issued his plan for cleaning up City Hall in the wake of Filner's pending resignation.
He said gifts of travel to council members should be approved by the City Council, a post of inspector general should be created to review allegations of pressure on developers, sexual harassment training should be completed before elected officials take their oath of office, and responsibility for responding to public records requests should be transferred to the City Auditor.