Not in three decades have we had a local political race quite as wacky as the battle between incumbent San Jose Council Member Rose Herrera and challenger Jimmy Nguyen in Evergreen District 8.
So let's parse and savor a once-in-a-generation folly. Keep in mind that there's less here than meets the eye. In the last week of a heated campaign, people act strangely.
In a nutshell, here's the story: Herrera's husband, Matt Wahlin, said he removed Nguyen lawn signs from his own yard and public property nearby. He dumped them in a public garbage receptacle in a park less than a mile away.
As he was about to put the cut-up Nguyen signs into the receptacle, he was surprised -- aha! -- by anti-Herrera political consultant Dustin DeRollo, who filmed the action.
Wahlin, 58, came away with bruises and road rash on his face and hands. Although no one called 911 immediately, he has now filed an assault complaint with the cops. DeRollo says neither he nor a companion touched Herrera's husband.
The take-away? This has all the signs of being a setup. The councilwoman and her husband have fallen for it.
Instead of creating a contrast with the likable but inexperienced lawyer she's opposing -- Jimmy Nguyen -- this race increasingly reveals Herrera's thin skin.
The topic is reasonably silly. Political pros will tell you that lawn signs placed in public areas, like a median strip, have no impact. People get irritated at what they see as litter.
The signs do matter when they're placed in a real person's front yard. Water board candidate David Ginsborg, for instance, has profitably placed signs in a number of front yards in my neighborhood.
Although campaign signs on public property are technically illegal, Wahlin should have simply left them alone. Touching them is a political land mine.
(Wahlin has said the reason he did not call code enforcement was that nothing was likely to be done in the last week of a campaign. That's true. But let it go).
Not surprisingly, the story has a few gaps. In an early piece Tuesday on KPIX-TV, Herrera and Wahlin talked just about taking down signs on their own property, which can be legitimately removed. Later, it came out that Wahlin had taken more than that.
A distant receptacle
Then there was the strange bit about why Wahlin had to dump the Nguyen signs in a garbage can blocks from his house. Herrera's husband said he didn't want to be accused of stealing the signs, but this made him look more guilty.
Even if you interpret all these things in a way most favorable to Wahlin and Herrera, the whole story is a distraction for an incumbent who ought to win this race handily.
Yes, the public employee unions who have hired DeRollo are pouring an avalanche of money into defeating Herrera, whom they believe betrayed them on pension reform.
But in both this episode and in a piece that attacked a police union playbook, Herrera has made the mistake of defining the race as a councilwoman against cops or thugs.
That isn't what this is about. It's about an incumbent with a record -- and a position on pension reform that was overwhelmingly approved by voters -- against a naive newcomer.
It takes self-restraint to stick to that line. Herrera has not shown it.