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The sorry state of the city of San Diego’s budget never is far from any City Council campaign.

Time and again, two candidates for open seats in District 6 and District 8 have been touting their private sector experience as reasons voters should choose them to fix the city’s problems. Lorie Zapf, a Republican running to replace termed-out Donna Frye, points to her background of running a health food company. Felipe Hueso, a Democrat running to replace his younger brother Ben, talks about his time as a lawyer.

They argue their opponents, both of whom have primarily public sector backgrounds, don’t have the business sense to solve the city’s fiscal problems.

But it’s Zapf’s and Hueso’s personal financial experiences that have grabbed the attention in both campaigns.

Hueso has filed for bankruptcy and was late paying his taxes. Zapf was late on home mortgage payments earlier this year.

Both say their actions aren’t as bad as portrayed and are irrelevant to their handling of city finances.

Their opponents disagree.

Zapf’s opponent, former Democratic state Assemblyman Howard Wayne, has a campaign mailer citing Zapf’s “poor personal financial management.” Hueso’s challenger, state senate staffer David Alvarez, sent a campaign mailer against Hueso calling him a “bankrupt politician.”

Personal finances, Wayne and Alvarez said, should be fair game in a campaign.

“We have a person here who is ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’” Wayne said.

“If you can’t manage your own finances, what is the expectation when you’re managing other people’s money, the public’s money, when it’s not money that you’ve earned and worked hard for?” Alvarez asked.

Hueso blames an accountant for mishandling his money and forcing him to go through Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1996. Unlike Chapter 7, Chapter 13 restructures debt rather than eliminating it. Hueso also said he paid back all the taxes he owed.

“I don’t think you understand the subtleties of bankruptcy law to portray me as having financial difficulties because I paid back every nickel that my accountant did not report,” Hueso said. “It’s not like I filed for Chapter 7 where I liquidated and was exonerated of my indebtedness.”

But court records show Hueso actually did file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. His Chapter 7 filing came six months prior to his Chapter 13. The Chapter 7 was dismissed, and then Hueso filed Chapter 13.

He said he didn’t recall why he had filed for Chapter 7 first or why that filing was dismissed.

Hueso added his understanding of bankruptcy, through personal experience and as an attorney, would benefit him on the council. He didn’t believe the city should file for bankruptcy, but if it did he would know what to do.

“If the city has to undergo some kind of similar relief, I’ve had an experience that some people haven’t had,” he said.

Meantime, Zapf argues she was simply trying to modify a home loan, and that Wayne doesn’t understand business owners’ plight.

It’s Wayne, she said, who has a political record of fiscal irresponsibility. She notes he voted for SB 400, a bill that boosted pension benefits for state employees. CityBeat has estimated the bill increased Wayne’s pension by more than $16,500 a year.

“He may not have any financial worries,” Zapf said.

She added: “But he’s always gotten a paycheck compliments of the taxpayers.”

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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