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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  1. Rex the Wonderdog!
    Rex the Wonderdog! 11 July, 2013, 08:32

    So far Filners opponents have lobbed fire bombs but no hard concrete evidence from accusers, has emerged. In politics I make sure that the one making the accusations can back them up.

    Reply this comment
  2. Hondo
    Hondo 11 July, 2013, 09:31

    Filner was right in the 60’s when he marched against his own raciest democratic party. He was right in supporting giving blacks equal rights.
    But that was 50 years ago. That’s 50 years to be corrupted by political power.
    In 1988 i worked on Gary Harts presidential campaign. I ended up working in the press office, which is kinda of a big deal in any campaign. This 18 y/o collage girl who was volunteering, asked me out. I was a weird looking (still am) 33 y/o dude with not much going for me but the fact that I was literate and could stand up to the screaming CNN producers on the phone. I politely declined her, claiming another fictional girlfriend. This was after the Donna Rice debacle when Gary got back into the race again. I saw landmines in taking advantage of a young girl I had little in common with besides working on the campaign. A couple days before, this big contributor waltzed into to the office with two obvious hookers who only spoke spanish and laid down a $1000 check on the desk. All eyebrows were raised and I saw trouble ahead. Which is one of the reasons I turned the cutie down.
    Why is it that politic gets people so horny? Why would our young attorney general shack up with that old pervert Willie Brown when she was in her 20’s. Clinton apparently slept with hundreds of groupies while his wife looked the other way.
    My advice to all of you who wanna get laid, join a political campaign.

    Reply this comment
  3. BobA
    BobA 11 July, 2013, 09:56


    I live in San Diego. Filner is a train wreck and even his most ardent democrat supporters want him out of office and not just over this latest scandal. Key members of his staff have resigned because of his conduct and he uses the police to forcibly remove anyone who dares to disagree with him at city council meetings. He is contemptuous of the elected city council and flaunts his authority at every opportunity. There was already a move to recall him and given this latest scandal, it is unlikely that he will finish out his term as mayor.

    Reply this comment
  4. Rex the Wonderdog!
    Rex the Wonderdog! 11 July, 2013, 11:46

    Bob, you don’t make wild baseless accusations (what they are) w/o proof, especially in politics. The idiot city attorney Goldsmith could easily be the one responsible for lobbing these charges. BTW, he used the cop to remove a deputy city attorney, and that was one person and it appears to be the result of the feud with Squirrel Toupee.

    Reply this comment
  5. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 11 July, 2013, 16:47

    Filner is the train wreck that just keeps happening.
    Given the ‘events’ of the last 10 years, SD really needs some leadership and stability.
    Instead, she got a psycho-union sock puppet.
    Hopefully Donna and Marco will sit down with the other grandees of San Diego’s real power elite after Filner is shuffled off to Buffalo, and have an honest talk about their city’s future that involves more than just writing blank checks to city employees and trendy causes.
    Also, IMHO, dysfunction at the city empowers rising quasi-governmental entities, like SANDAG, that are non-accountable empire builders.

    Reply this comment
  6. Rex the Wonderdog!
    Rex the Wonderdog! 11 July, 2013, 18:33

    Also, IMHO, dysfunction at the city empowers rising quasi-governmental entities –
    Are you serious???

    The power cabal in SD is being rocked by Filner, if anything he might shake the city loose from corporate and public unions greed.

    Reply this comment
  7. Queeg
    Queeg 12 July, 2013, 07:37

    Just another day in an over rated tourist trap!

    Reply this comment
  8. Done With Filner
    Done With Filner 12 July, 2013, 22:50

    As a capital D Democrat, I have voted for Filner in the past largely because the alternative seemed completely unacceptable. But when he ran for mayor, I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for the guy. I read these blogs and cannot quite believe what some are writing. On one “progressive” blog, they’re falling all over themselves to excuse Bob for being Bob while attacking Frye, Gonzalez, and Briggs for publicly calling for him to resign. In their eyes, everyone but Bob is to blame and there’s simply no proof of any wrong=doing. I’m sorry, but Jan Goldsmith had nothing to do with Vince Hall resigning. The Republicans had nothing to do with Allen Jones leaving. The UT had nothing to do with the trip to Paris. The downtown corporate elite had nothing to do with putting good people out of work because they could not in good conscience work another day with that man. There is only one person who has caused all of this to happen and his name is Filner. The sooner that he resigns, the better.

    Oh, and don’t you love the part where he says that he and his office will attend sexual harassment training? Hasn’t he been in Congress for 30 years where they actually write the legislation on sexual harassment? Maybe he was too busy abusing his staff to read those bills.

    Reply this comment
  9. Bubba
    Bubba 14 July, 2013, 16:01

    Ol’ Bob will have to taken from office feet last dragging his heals, while screaming how he is being picked on.
    He is a Bully, has always been a Bully. But now thinks he can pull a Bill Clinton with his “Mea Copa” and all will be alright.

    Reply this comment

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