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Inside the Falling Out Between Carl DeMaio and His Longtime Consultants

Tuesday, a spat broke out [1] between Carl DeMaio and a consultant who had worked for his 2012 mayoral campaign. It seemed unexpected because it produced a rare public rebuke of the candidate from someone ostensibly on his side.

It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, though. It was the first surfacing of a year’s worth of awkwardness, if not hostility, between DeMaio and several of the people who helped him rise to the top of San Diego’s Republican Party politics.

It began late last summer when conservative and business leaders chose to support Kevin Faulconer in the special mayoral race to replace Bob Filner, who had resigned in disgrace. Since then, a feud between DeMaio and the consultants who ran his 2012 mayoral campaign has simmered under the surface.

Now it’s no longer hidden and it threatens to become a bigger distraction for DeMaio, who is in a tight race for Congress against incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters. DeMaio’s falling out with his former consultants might also explain erratic campaign moves and some of his increasingly passionate critiques of people he referred to this week as “so-called Republicans.”

The tension got worse later in the week. After I posted the story of DeMaio’s criticism of Republicans efforts to throw out the minimum wage increase, DeMaio emailed me.

He said I had gotten something wrong about Jason Roe, a partner at the consulting firm Revolvis.

You see, Roe had mocked DeMaio, implying his criticism of a referendum was more about DeMaio’s ego than any substantive concern.

DeMaio wrote to tell me Roe was not his lead consultant – that was Stephen Puetz.

This surprised me because Roe had been the one to take center stage after DeMaio’s mayoral campaign. He was the one explaining DeMaio’s strategy in that race, especially in this inewsource story [2].

DeMaio wrote me this:

“I was as surprised with that interview as anyone. He was not authorized to speak on behalf of the campaign, was not assigned to my race (he worked for [former Rep. Brian] Bilbray not me), and didn’t know what he was talking about,” DeMaio wrote.

I asked Roe for a response.

“I wish I could as easily erase my involvement in his 2012 campaign as he seems to have,” Roe said.

In interviews with several people close to the situation, I’ve been able to piece together the origin of this tension. Nobody wanted me to use their names, however. But I confirmed each detail with several sources.

First, understand Revolvis [3], the consulting firm that is newly dominant in San Diego politics. No other local political shop has the reach or portfolio of clients.

Revolvis counts Faulconer, Republican City Councilmen Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman and many other local elected officials as clients. Ray Ellis, who tried to unseat City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner in 2012, is a client. A former partner from Revolvis, Puetz, now serves as chief of staff to Faulconer.

In 2013, Revolvis opened a new downtown San Diego office and it hosts a steady stream of current and hopeful politicians. Revolvis has served dozens of congressional representatives, including Tom McClintock, Michele Bachmann and Sen. Mark Kirk.

In yet another sign of how important the firm has become, Roe is now running the campaign to throw out the increase to the city of San Diego’s minimum wage. That indicates Revolvis is expanding its focus and will be more involved in ballot initiatives, not just candidates. Case in point, Roe is also leading the charge to develop a former country club golf course in Escondido, Proposition H.

But Revolvis has lost one big client: DeMaio.

Duane Dichiara and Roe run Revolvis together. When DeMaio decided to run for mayor in the 2012 election, he contracted with Revolvis and that got him the whole team: Puetz, Roe and Dichiara. And it included the services of people like Roe’s wife, Patty, who was responsible for many logistics, including mail and interacting with vendors.

Puetz spent the most time on DeMaio’s campaign. But Dichiara and Roe were also heavily involved.

Often, candidates will have a lead consultant and a campaign manager. If you see a campaign with a young campaign manager, chances are he or she is not involved heavily in strategy – the polls, focus groups, messaging and analysis. That’s the purview of a campaign consultant.

But DeMaio also had the services of Ryan Clumpner, a bright manager who became more than an organizer. Were you to draw an organization chart of the DeMaio campaign, Puetz would be the consultant, with branches laterally to Dichiara and Roe and then, in an equally important position, you’d have Clumpner in charge of daily operations and the get-out-the-vote push.

I don’t know what DeMaio means when he says Roe was not assigned to his campaign – Roe doesn’t have a boss who assigns him to clients. But Roe did spend time on DeMaio’s campaign – and was sometimes very intensely involved.

DeMaio lost the mayor’s race. It was devastating to him. Publicly, he blamed the failure on negative impressions of the Republican Party’s brand. He blamed special interests uncomfortable with the changes he promised to bring.

But privately, it may have confirmed in his mind long-held doubts about the value of consultants.

“Carl has long questioned the general consultant model used in campaigns today,” Dave McCulloch, told me in an email. “That’s why for his congressional race, Carl established a different structure from the very beginning where he would assemble a team of individuals who provide expertise in specific functional areas.”

At the same time, though, DeMaio confirmed that regardless of his doubts about the strong-consultant model of campaigns in California, when he decided to run for Congress, he asked Puetz to serve him as campaign manager, through Revolvis.

Puetz soon got pulled away.

In July 2013, the man who beat DeMaio, then-Mayor Bob Filner, started to fall apart. Accusations of Filner’s sexual harassment of employees and volunteers got so intense that Republican leaders began a series of meetings first about whether they should support a recall effort and then about who should be the Republican standard bearer in any election to replace him.

City politics is where DeMaio’s heart is. Being the chief executive of San Diego was within his grasp again. But in a now-famous meeting [4] at developer Tom Sudberry’s home in La Jolla, Republican and business leaders decided to throw their support behind Faulconer, not DeMaio.

DeMaio was not ready to back down. The U-T, whose publisher was at the meeting, even followed up with an editorial [5] advising DeMaio to stick with the congressional run.

“His in-your-face doggedness and sometimes abrasive manner is just what is needed to fix a broken Congress. But those traits are not what is needed to heal our broken city,” the U-T wrote.

Puetz, crucially, went with Faulconer.

He wasn’t alone. A source close to the situation told me that the majority of key consultants to DeMaio told him they thought he should stay in the congressional race and that Faulconer should run for mayor.

DeMaio disputes this.

“Carl received lots of different advice with some pushing the mayoral election and some pushing the prospect of a national role in Congress,” his spokesman McCulloch wrote. DeMaio has told other media that he was turned off by how the City Council had changed and did not, actually, want to be mayor.

Whatever other rationale he may have had, DeMaio was furious about the lack of support from his advisers for a mayoral run. He saw it as a betrayal and ended his relationship with several of them, including his longtime friend, colleague and former chief of staff, Felipe Monroig.

Monroig and DeMaio go back far: They met in high school at Georgetown Prep, where DeMaio landed after he was “taken in by the Jesuits,” as DeMaio puts it, when his family suffered a series of tragedies [6]. Monroig worked in DeMaio’s businesses and moved to San Diego to support DeMaio.

Monroig is now Faulconer’s deputy chief of staff. He would only confirm that he and DeMaio are no longer communicating.

Also newly estranged was Jennifer Jacobs. Jacobs had been a partner with Dichiara at Coronado Communications, a predecessor to Revolvis. She worked alongside DeMaio throughout his meteoric rise in San Diego politics.

Jacobs confirmed she hasn’t interacted with DeMaio in the year since the special election for mayor began.

She has, however, run independent Republican efforts in support of his congressional campaign.

Now DeMaio, in the fight for his political life, does not have a lead consultant like most campaigns.

DeMaio did sign Ric Grenell [7], of Capital Media Partners, to assist, he says, with national communications. Grenell is the former spokesman for former Mayor Susan Golding. He rose to prominence as a national security expert and spokesman for the United States at the United Nations. He also happens to be known for in-your-face doggedness.

And DeMaio kept Tommy Knepper, an operative on his mayoral campaign who is now his campaign manager.

But the most experienced people at helping DeMaio stay on message and out of many of the fights he is sometimes inclined to pick are no longer welcome in his inner circle.

Instead, DeMaio is testing his hypothesis that he’s the best one to manage himself.

DeMaio’s spokesman, McCulloch, says it’s been a success so far:

“Carl is pleased with how well the model he is using in the congressional race is working for him, but recognizes it may not work for all candidates.”

Correction: Ryan Clumpner did not run Faulconer’s get-out-the-vote effort as I originally wrote. That was Sara Kamiab. Clumpner ran the Lincoln Club’s independent expenditures in support of Faulconer.

Correction: Revolvis does not advise all Republican City Council members, as I originally wrote. Lorie Zapf uses the services of consultant John Hoy.