THE CLAWS are out in the mayor's race.

About 40 minutes after former City Councilman Jim Kenney's campaign announced yesterday that he'd won the backing of Latino political and community leaders, fellow Democratic mayoral candidate Nelson Diaz blew a gasket.

In an emailed statement, Diaz, a former Common Pleas judge, claimed that Kenney had landed the support of Latinos United for Political Empowerment only by agreeing to "fund and participate in a joint campaign" with controversial Council candidate Manny Morales.

As you might recall, Morales initially was backed by the Democratic City Committee in his bid to unseat Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez in the 7th District.

Those plans fell to pieces in Hindenburg-like fashion after racist, anti-gay and anti-poor posts were found on Morales' Facebook page.

Morales claimed that his account had been hacked and even photoshopped; the Democratic City Committee withdrew its support.

Diaz, who last month called for Morales to quit the race, said that LUPE officials repeatedly told him they would drop their endorsement of him if he didn't agree to participate in a joint campaign with Morales.

"Apparently, Jim Kenney is willing to make that deal. I am profoundly disappointed but not surprised," Diaz said.

"He values his own election more than his integrity, and more than basic progressive values."

Not surprisingly, Kenney's campaign cried something that rhymes with bullspit.

"We are absolutely not supporting Manny Morales, nor did we make any such deal with LUPE," Kenney's spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said in an email.

"We have given LUPE no money and are not coordinating a 'campaign' with them."

Hitt said that Diaz was "embarrassed" over losing the backing of a Latino organization and was making "offensive, ridiculous accusations to try and excuse it."

When asked if Kenney would support Sanchez, Hitt said: "Jim has worked very positively with Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez for years on numerous immigration-reform issues, and he hopes to continue their good work together in the future."