Filner’s implosion accelerates with sex-harassment claims

July 11, 2013

By Chris Reed

filner.smilesSAN DIEGO — To the surprise of no one who has dealt with him, first-year Mayor Bob Filner’s days in office could be numbered because of his personal recklessness. After two decades as a near-anonymous back-bencher in the U.S. House of Representatives, Filner’s bullying, obnoxious ways have backfired repeatedly in a job in which he has both vast executive power and a level of scrutiny that he never had in Washington, D.C.

Today, former San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye — arguably city Democrats’ single favorite politician — and muckraking environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez — brother of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the most powerful force in San Diego labor — will hold a 10 a.m. press conference to discuss as-yet-undetailed allegations of sexual harassment against Filner that are so troubling that Frye has declared he must immediately resign. (Here’s her letter.) Another prominent attorney, Cory Briggs, will also join Frye and Gonzalez in calling for Filner to quit.

The former longtime congressman was already facing an FBI investigation because of what Filner all-but-acknowledged was a pay-for-play arrangement in which a city permit was only granted after the developer gave him $100,000 for two of his pet causes — in direct contradiction of Supreme Court rulings, including one just released last month.

But Filner can spin that away as his standing up to rich developers — especially the “downtown interests” whom Democrats routinely depict as the city’s shadow rulers. His decision to launch an ugly feud with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, a Republican, also is easy to frame with the narrative of him standing up to “downtown.”

Bully Republicans — but not rank-and-file union workers

However, Filner’s habit of browbeating and berating anyone who somehow displeases him isn’t limited to political rivals, reporters and developers. Stories about his obnoxious behavior at City Hall began the week he took office, usually involving him mercilessly dissecting an aide in front of others — but also strange stories, such as the mayor walking through offices and screaming at people whose facial expressions he found unacceptable.

Ten staffers who had regular contact with Filner have already quit. He’s gone weeks without a press secretary, apparently unable to find someone willing to take the job.

That Filner’s behavior extends to alleged demeaning interactions with women is no surprise. His much-younger fiancee announced their relationship was over on Monday because of its “devolvement” after weeks of rumors about the mayor and other women. Many women in the political world swap stories of Filner’s offensive habits, such as his refusal to end a handshake because he is using his forced proximity to deliver a dressing-down.

It appears that when this abusive treatment extended to union members — or at least to enough union members —  some Democrats felt they could no longer take it.

“What we would not accept for our enemies, we cannot condone of our friends,” is how Gonzalez put it.

Democrats have great reason to want mayor gone

But is there also a political long game going on here? Maybe.

It has to have occurred to Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs that if Filner quits or is ousted, City Council President Todd Gloria would take over the duties of mayor, and set himself up as the strong favorite among Democrats in the special election that must be held within 90 days of a mayoral vacancy.

PS1_todd_gloriaGloria is a political natural — smart, funny and very likable. I met him in 2008 at a candidates’ forum. Afterwards, I accused the former congressional aide of being a ringer, he was so far superior to that year’s other City Council candidates. His polished public persona reminds me of the John Roberts who charmed many in his 2005 Senate confirmation hearing as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gloria is gay and of Native American, Filipino, Dutch and Puerto Rican ancestry. He is a progressive on social issues but is increasingly pragmatic about how San Diego functions and has been building ties with business groups. Initially skeptical, Gloria now supports a unique San Diego program in which private firms bid against groups of government employees for the right to provide city services. The “managed competition” process has already saved millions of dollars, and holds great promise to hold tens of millions of dollars more once city trash services go out to bid. That is something Filner has stalled.

It is not just Filner doubters but many Democratic insiders who have long expected him to implode. If these insiders knew there were bombshells to come, they surely thought the sooner the better — because who wants years more of horrible behavior from a Democratic mayor when they could have a fresh 35-year-old wunderkind replace Filner and bring immediate relief with his pleasant demeanor? That Gloria’s politics may as well have been concocted via supercomputer by Nate Silver to maximize his appeal to general election voters here doesn’t hurt either.

Will Rogers never met Bob Filner

So pay attention to San Diego and don’t necessarily buy surface narratives. Will Rogers never met Bob Filner. There are plenty of Democrats here who won’t think he’s worth fighting for — especially if the details to be revealed today are particularly repellent.

And especially if Filner’s Democratic successor would have a way better chance to hold the mayor’s seat in 2016 than the poster boy for anger mismanagement.

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