Mayoral candidate has online virtual self to answer voter questions

[From Voice of San Diego; more information, including a comparison of answers by the virtual candidate and the iPhone’s Siri, is available here]

The Tragic and Fascinating Life of Carl DeMaio

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | Updated: Wed Mar 14, 2012
by Liam Dillon

Carl DeMaio’s favorite color is blue. He usually eats dessert before his dinner. He’s afraid of heights, loves zombie movies and one time, when he was a high school freshman, he caught his tie in a newspaper vending machine. DeMaio freed himself from the machine by surrendering his neckwear. He still remembers how the tie looked hanging from the box when he walked away.

“Like a tongue,” DeMaio says.

You won’t hear DeMaio, a 37-year-old city councilman and mayoral candidate, tell these stories during his ubiquitous local media appearances. When he’s on stage, DeMaio is all about his plans to save city finances. Not personal anecdotes.

For this kind of talk, you have to go to an unusual source. DeMaio has created a virtual reality version of himself on his campaign website. He appears inside a whole virtual office. There’s a fireplace, an American flag and a window with a view of the San Diego skyline. Type a question and DeMaio animates.

Like the real DeMaio does on television, his virtual self can talk about his detailed proposals to balance the city budget, repair streets and create jobs. But the real attraction comes when the virtual DeMaio lively regales personal anecdotes. DeMaio has pre-recorded answers to 40 personal questions, everything from his exercise schedule (“I used to work out a lot more than I am today”) to his television habits (history documentaries). Other candidates relate these humanizing details freely in conversation. DeMaio leaves it to the robot version of himself.

DeMaio, both real and virtual, will tell you he’s an intensely private person. For someone omnipresent in the public eye, DeMaio has told the public little about how he came to be who he is. That’s by design. Talking about his background makes him uncomfortable. The facts of DeMaio’s life, though, are both tragic and fascinating. He was essentially orphaned as a teenager. He’s a drown-government-in-the-bathtub Republican leading a push against the party’s more moderate side. He’s in a committed relationship with the publisher of a prominent gay newspaper.

[snip]

Type this question into the Q&A on DeMaio’s website: Are you a private person?

DeMaio appears, raises his eyebrows and jumps right into the answer. Yes, he is. It might come as a surprise, DeMaio says, because he’s a public official who’s out in the public all the time. But it’s true. He even took a personality test that proves it.

“It shows that I’m an introvert,” DeMaio will tell you.

If you spend enough time with DeMaio’s virtual version, you can come to that conclusion yourself. He likes to walk along Lake Hodges near his home to clear his mind.

At the end of the day, he likes to be by himself and collect his thoughts.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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