SAN DIEGO -- Mayor Bob Filner has put the entire city of San Diego in one of his trademark headlocks.
Seven of nine City Council members, countless members of the local Democratic establishment, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein have demanded his resignation after seven women stepped forward to accuse the 70-year-old of multiple instances of unwanted, sexually charged touching. Two recall efforts have been launched.
Filner has admitted he has a problem, has apologized to the citizens of San Diego and the women he has “offended,” and has claimed in a Univision television interview that he has a “monster … inside me.” But, he maintains, he has not sexually harassed anyone.
So he’s hanging in there.
Amazingly, no one of any gravitas has stepped forward with a full-throated defense of the man. How could that be? He represented this area in Congress for 20 years and was a member of the San Diego City Council for six years before that.
Could it be because he is brusque, truculent, unpleasant to work for and given to inappropriate outbursts? His awfulness inspires extreme metaphors. One of his political enemies told reporter Liam Dillon of the Voice of San Diego that Filner is not just an [vulgar singular epithet] but “the Grand Canyon of [vulgar plural epithet].” Sorry I can’t spell it out, but use your imagination.
Don Harrison, a longtime friend of Filner who is editor of San Diego Jewish World, suggested in a column that Filner’s lack of support may be something the mayor wishes to ponder when he leaves for two weeks of behavioral rehab, scheduled to start Aug. 5.
Harrison created a list of 18 questions Filner should ask himself. Coming in at No. 13: “After all the good I have done in the political world, why has my support melted away so quickly? Are character issues — on which I now see I clearly have fallen short — more important than policy issues?”
Dillon, who has covered Filner for several years, offered this theory Monday: “He has upset so many people over the years that when it came time for someone to step in front of the bus for him, there was no one because he’d thrown them all under the bus already.”
Like many reporters, Dillon said he has often found the mayor’s candor and humor refreshing, but he has also had his share of Filner weirdness. Twice, Dillon said, the mayor has gently slapped him in the face for no apparent reason. The first slap occurred after a news conference in December 2011, when then-Rep. Filner received a union endorsement in his quest for mayor.
“I’d never had anyone hit me while I was doing my job before,” Dillon told me. “I was sort of taken aback.” Filner did it again sometime later at City Hall. “I put my finger in his face and said, ‘You're not allowed to do that,' " Dillon said. "It never happened again."
(Sam Hodgson, a Voice of San Diego photographer who witnessed the first slap, said he told a Filner staffer, “Your candidate just slapped our government reporter in the face.”)
San Diegans are not holding out much hope that the mayor’s rehab will be successful.
In an automated telephone survey released Friday, 67% said Filner should resign. Sixty percent said he should be recalled if he stays in office, and 74% said they believe the allegations are true. The unscientific survey, noting that the city attorney has asked that Filner never be alone with a woman while he is on city business, asked whether that affects his ability to run the city. Sixty-eight percent said it does.
Still, Headlock Bob is hanging in there.
And why shouldn’t he? In an awesome display of civic-mindedness, the chief executive of San Diego’s largest newspaper suggested last week at a community meeting that the politically conservative paper would not call for the liberal Filner’s resignation because the story is good for circulation, according to the San Diego Reader.
“I’ve got to be a little selfish,” said U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch, whose paper has been at odds with Filner for years. The mayor’s troubles, he said, are a “gift that keeps giving.”
And in an awesome display of chutzpah, Filner has asked the City Council to pay his legal bills in connection with the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by his former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson. The council has invited public testimony Tuesday evening before it votes on the request in a closed session.
Meanwhile, two San Diegans have launched separate but equally dubious recall efforts.
One, Stampp Corbin, editor of the LGBT Weekly, is a longtime Filner supporter who may or may not have launched his recall in an effort to gum up an apparently more sincere effort announced Monday evening by Republican land-use consultant and longtime Filner foe Michael Pallamary.
(It's getting hard to find a normal news conference in this town right now. On Monday, with a “No more Grabby Grabby” sign in the background, Pallamary, in a cringe-worthy move, trotted out his 8- and 10-year-old grandchildren to tell reporters they support their “Poppy.”)
Even if either recall effort gathers the more than 100,000 signatures needed to get a measure on the ballot, San Diego’s municipal recall code conflicts with state law, and would have to be amended by the City Council, which is about to go into its August recess.
As local television legal analyst Dan Eaton told NBC 7 here, on the off chance that a recall petition does qualify for the ballot, “You’re more likely looking at Christmas, and it might be well into 2014 before San Diegans get a chance to vote.”
What can the city do but cry uncle?