SAN JOSE -- An increasingly hostile race between District 8 incumbent City Councilwoman Rose Herrera and challenger Jimmy Nguyen took a bizarre twist Tuesday with dueling accusations of campaign sign theft and assault.
Nguyen's supporters released a videotape of Herrera's husband that they say shows him taking a Nguyen campaign sign and later preparing to dump that sign and others in a public garbage can.
Software engineer Matt Wahlin, 58, admits he did remove some Nguyen signs, which he said someone repeatedly placed on the couple's front lawn in recent days. He said he also removed signs that had been on public property in the area, which he said is a violation of city rules.
But Wahlin said he was attacked Monday night as he was about to throw the signs away in a garbage bin, located in a small park less than a mile from the home he shares with Herrera.
"I was going around the corner and I was blindsided and knocked to the ground by at least one person," Wahlin told reporters late Tuesday morning from his living room. As he stood up after the attack, he said, two suspects shined a bright light and camera in his face.
Wahlin showed reporters scrapes and bruises on his face, hands and left knee that he said he suffered as a result of the confrontation. He filed a police report Tuesday against his unknown assailants.
Political consultant Dustin DeRollo, who provided the videotape, said neither he nor a Nguyen supporter touched Wahlin.
"There's no excuse for stealing signs of a political opponent, and this win-at-all costs mentality is not healthy for our community," DeRollo said.
DeRollo and his colleague Tom Saggau are the strategists behind a well-funded government employee union campaign to defeat Herrera.
Unions are furious at Herrera for supporting pension reform, which voters passed overwhelmingly in June. They are suing the city to try and block it from taking effect.
DeRollo told reporters that after he and Saggau last week received reports of Nguyen signs being stolen, and others found some that were cut up and stuffed into two garbage cans near the tiny park, they decided to watch the area late Sunday and late Monday nights.
The partners showed reporters a video of what appears to be Wahlin as he parks his car, walks across the street, takes a Nguyen sign from public property and leaves Sunday night.
A second video, taken Monday night, shows what appears to be a surprised Wahlin confronted by DeRollo and Duc Lam, who were waiting near the garbage can.
They said Wahlin was carrying cut up Nguyen signs. Meanwhile, the angry and stunned Wahlin demands to know who they are, and tells them to get away from him, holding something in his hand before the two men flee.
"I was scared and I wanted these guys to get away from me," Wahlin said. "This is just an attempt to create one more distraction from really comparing the candidates."
Two years ago, Saggau was involved in a similar "gotcha" moment after confronting City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio for removing a campaign sign that opposed Measure V, a contentious San Jose ballot measure to limit police and firefighter pay and pension, which Oliverio supported.
Wahlin said he didn't throw the signs into his own garbage cans because he was worried someone might see them and accuse him of stealing them. Asked why he didn't report the illegal signs to the city's Code Enforcement department, Wahlin said he didn't think it would be acted on before next week's election.
"It's outrageous. I don't think there is any place for an assault against any candidate or a family member," Herrera said.
Nguyen could not be reached for comment, but his campaign consultant Rich Robinson said the release of the video had nothing at all to do with the Nguyen campaign.
In a related matter, the San Jose Elections Commission on Tuesday night held a special meeting to consider a complaint by a former San Jose cop accusing Nguyen's campaign of colluding with an independent committee linked to the San Jose Police Officers' Association, which is seeking to defeat Herrera.
But an evaluation by the investigator, an attorney with the San Francisco law firm of Hanson Bridgett, determined that the complaint by former police officer Martin Monica related to the POA's communications director Kerry Hillis, who has taken a leave of absence from his job to volunteer on Nguyen's campaign, does not include enough evidence to warrant an investigation by the commission.
The commission reviews complaints about alleged violations of city campaign, ethics and lobbying rules.
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.