Rik Hauptfeld likes to talk in person. He’d much rather sit in his favorite donut shop (“our campaign headquarters”) than chat over the phone. And it’s not hard to see why. The 40-year-old immigrant from the former Yugoslavia is an amiable, earnest chap. Even his competitors describe him as “a very nice guy.”

He kind of has to be.

Of the three main challengers for the City Council seat in District 7, Hauptfeld is the least experienced politically, the least-funded and has the fewest endorsements. The Tierrasanta resident has to rely on his charm, his charisma and the help of a handful of committed volunteers if he is to have any chance of getting through June’s primary election.

And that’s what Hauptfeld’s banking on. He’s getting in front of as many voters as possible, walking precincts and visiting community meetings. The father of three young girls and registered Republican may not have the backing of either party, but he’s not letting that get in the way of his campaign.

“Our focus needs to be on the people,” he said. “We believe that the citizens of our nation, state and city aren’t necessarily being represented properly.”

Outside of a few key issues, Hauptfeld’s policy positions are somewhat ill-defined. What’s crystal clear, however, is his approach to finding out more about the communities.

Hauptfeld says he’s willing to talk to anyone, anytime, about pretty much anything, and he’s hoping this bipartisan approach will strike a chord in what is likely to become a highly contested race between the major Republican and Democratic candidates.

To illustrate his point, he thrice painted a scenario in our interviews: He asked me to picture each candidate in turn, in office, having won the election. Each candidate receives two phone calls at the same time, he said. Scott Sherman gets a call from a local resident, but on the other line is a major Republican backer. Mat Kostrinsky gets the same call from a resident, but has a labor leader waiting on the other line.

“When those two calls come in, the promise I can make is that the resident’s phone call will be answered,” he said.

Hauptfeld will find out over the next several weeks whether having a winning smile, a firm handshake and a steady gaze are sufficient attributes to make him a realistic contender.

Top Three Priorities

Fire Protection and Awareness: Hauptfeld’s priorities have been strongly influenced by his interaction with community members in his home neighborhood of Tierrasanta. One of the chief concerns of that neighborhood is fire protection and awareness that wildfires can sweep into the canyon-riddled community.

Hauptfeld has a host of ideas for raising fire awareness. One example: He said the Burn Institute has offered to provide free 9-volt batteries that volunteers can hand out door-to-door for residents to put in their smoke detectors. He said he’s all about low- or no-cost community solutions.

Education: Hauptfeld is realistic about the limitations of the city’s ability to address the manifold problems facing city schools.

But he has the same answer for tackling education issues in the city: The community can work with the city to forge solutions that don’t necessarily involve exerting more control over the school district.

His example: The City Council could augment funding for local schools. If the city gave city schools $1 million, for example, that could pay for 40,000 hours of additional tutoring instruction from retired teachers, who could tutor local kids in rec centers and libraries.

Fiscal Responsibility: Hauptfeld talks far less about the need for fiscal responsibility at City Hall than the other Republican candidate in this race, Scott Sherman.

He is adamantly against Proposition B, the pension reform initiative, because he’s worried that taking pensions away from new city firefighters would lead to attrition.

Instead, Hauptfeld wants to see tailored pension reform that does away with loopholes. Employees shouldn’t be allowed to collect pensions worth more than 120 percent of their salary, he said, and also shouldn’t be allowed to work in the city in a different capacity while also collecting a pension on their former job.

As far as wasting money, Hauptfeld pointed to the downtown library. He leveled criticism at the building’s glass dome, arguing that it was a waste of money that serves no purpose except an architectural one.

Best Way to Describe His Pitch

He talks to the people, he represents the people and he’s not beholden to special interests.

Hauptfeld is careful not to use the word “I.” Instead, he’s always talking about “we,” ushering in the volunteers around him. Without the backing of a major party, he’s in the position to play the independent candidate, and he says that’s what he’s all about.

He has an able orator’s skill of taking any whisper of criticism and turning it into a positive. If people call him a dreamer, he says, that’s a moniker he embraces. If he’s seen as too inexperienced politically, that’s great isn’t it, since the current mess the city’s in is down to the wrangling of the two parties?

What He Doesn’t Want to Talk About

This is a tough one.

Hauptfeld’s not reticent about any part of his campaign or his philosophy. His opponents criticized him for not having worked in three years and Hauptfeld snorted. He’s up at 6 a.m. to get his kids to school, he said, and anyone who doesn’t think bringing up three girls is a full-time job is seriously mistaken.

In more than two hours of interviews, however, Hauptfeld’s ideas seldom wandered far from the leafy streets of Tierrasanta where he lives. His campaign is extremely Tierrasanta-based, and the examples that trip off his tongue most readily almost always have some hyperlocal connection to his home community.

Not that Hauptfeld isn’t versed in many of the problems outside his neighborhood. He can talk Mission Valley, or Linda Vista, or Grantville. But it’s clear that the problems and concerns of those neighborhoods aren’t the issues he feels most comfortable discussing.

Interesting Fact About His Life Hauptfeld was born in Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia. He speaks English, Croatian, Russian and Czech, and speaks to his daughters in Czech.

What He Sees as Important in Each Area

Tierrasanta: Public safety and education.

Linda Vista, Birdland and Serra Mesa: He said he’s planning to meet with community leaders to hear more about the community’s problems. He said he contacted the office of Lorie Zapf, the current council member for Linda Vista, and asked to have a sit-down meeting with her staff, in order to get to know the area better. He said he never got a reply. That would change under his leadership, he said.

Mission Valley: Homelessness and protecting the San Diego River Park.

Grantville: Working with residents and developers to find an agreeable middle ground for future development.

Get In Touch With Him

Office phone + email: 858.255.0745 + rik@hauptfeld2012.org

Website: Pickrik.com

Facebook: Facebook.com/Hauptfeld2012

Twitter: @Hauptfeld2012

Next up: A guide to District 7 candidate Mat Kostrinsky

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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