SAN DIEGO -- If you ever doubted the ability of a narcissist to wreak havoc, look no further than San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who practices his job as if it’s Lucha Libre, not municipal governance.
Turns out not all of this city’s animals are kept in its world-famous zoo. There is no horndog exhibit.
This temperate town has been in an uproar ever since three of the mayor’s former supporters held a press conference on July 9 and begged him to resign.
“I’m clearly doing something wrong,” responded Filner, confused but on the right track. At that point, no women had lent their names to allegations of sexual harassment, so he could pretend his political enemies were trying to hurt him, and demand “due process.”
But now eight – count ‘em – middle-aged professional women have told stories of Filner’s unwanted sexual advances. The tales are strikingly similar, and generally end with his saliva on their face. He gets them alone. He comes on to them. He touches them, kisses him and they try to wriggle away. Several involve that infamous headlock.
Filner’s former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, who seems to have borne the brunt of his boorishness, said he threw her around “like a ragdoll” when she was in his grip and suggested she would work better without her panties on.
He would work better with tape over his mouth.
The city attorney issued an order: The mayor is not allowed to be alone with any woman during city business.
The mayor changed his tune a little: Still deeply sorry, he knows he has a “monster … inside me.” He still maintains he is not guilty of sexual harassment. But he must change. He will go to rehab.
The city doesn’t seem to care where he goes as long as he leaves. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The city will need his forwarding address; on Tuesday the council voted to sue Filner to recover any legal fees or damages they incur on his behalf in connection with the sexual harassment suit filed against the mayor and the city by Jackson, who is being represented by attorney Gloria Allred.
But will the man ever go?
Two recall efforts have been announced, one by a Filner friend and one by a Filner enemy. The first appears to be a filibuster-like move, aimed at de-legitimizing the second, sincere recall, as the city does not allow two recalls to take place within six months of each other.
“That really disturbs me as a citizen,” said Anne Rauch, an attorney who said she is a Democrat. “I don’t know anyone who thinks he should stay in office. He’s a creep. Any agenda he hopes to advance as mayor has been completely derailed by his ridiculous and outrageous behavior.”
When asked to quantify the city’s dysfunction, San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria, also a Democrat, told me: “I don’t have a dysfunction meter. The situation is not ideal.”
(Somebody should invent a municipal dysfunction meter. Measurement units could be “Filners.” Maybe one Filner would be composed of two Weiners. Or three Spitzers.)
It’s not as if Filner’s fall came out of the blue. There have been rumblings about the 10-term former congressman for awhile.
Last fall, the campaign of Filner’s opponent, Republican Carl DiMaio, a former councilman who is running for Congress, circulated a disturbing letter, penned anonymously by two women who identified themselves as having worked “for or around” Filner in Washington D.C. The letter was published on July 15 by the U-T San Diego, which noted that, back in September, it had been unable to verify the claims.
The letter writers said that in Washington, Filner had several nicknames: “Mr. Misogynist,” “Nasty Narcissist” and “Filthy Filner.”
“We have watched in disbelief his current rise to potential power as mayor of San Diego,” they wrote. “With the same disbelief, we have waited for at least one of your local women to ‘come out of the closet’ as to the true character of Mr. Filner. … The best we can hope for is that this letter prompts some investigation. If not, warn the women and good luck.”
They never revealed themselves publicly, and reporters were unable to ferret out anything they could publish.
Voice of San Diego reporter Liam Dillon, who had not seen the DiMaio letter, said he spent two weeks during the mayoral campaign investigating rumors but found no one willing to come forward. He told me that Filner had lightly slapped him on the face twice, and a second reporter told me that she once hit Filner after he tried to put her in a headlock.
In a city where Democrats have been starved out of the mayor’s office for decades, many progressives in a position to stop or impede him were willing to overlook Filner’s reputation because he was a champion of liberal causes.
“It’s a cost-benefit analysis,” explained David Rolland, editor of San Diego City Beat. “He’s a jerk, but his politics, from our standpoint, were right on the money.”
Still, when City Beat endorsed Filner last year in the primary, Rolland sounded a cautionary note in his unsigned editorial: “We already knew that Filner can be cantankerous and overbearing and has a reputation for creating a work environment that’s not always pleasant. Meanwhile, with Filner – how shall we put this? – the threat level for scandal of varying sorts is at least orange. Color us concerned.”
For now, Republicans are lying low. Trounced in 2012, they are waiting and watching. In their hearts, they believe this conservative city belongs to them, and it’s only a matter of time until they wrench it back.
Normally, given the demographic trends, I would call them deluded.
But this time around, they may be right.
Robin Abcarian is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.