After a decade on Capitol Hill as a successful Democratic congressman, Bob Filner was elected mayor of San Diego last year. It was not an easy task – San Diego very rarely elects Democratic mayors, and Filner won with only 51% of the vote.
But just a half-year into his first term, it’s no longer clear whether the mayor will be able to remain in office much longer.
Turning up the pressure on Mayor Bob Filner to resign, three former supporters Monday released details of his alleged sexual harassment of women, including the forcible kissing of two constituents and grabbing the buttocks and breast of a staff member.
In a City Hall elevator, Filner told a female staffer that women employees would do better “if they worked without their panties on,” attorney Marco Gonzalez said at a news conference outside City Hall.
Filner’s behavior toward women is so egregious that women who work for him call him a “dirty old man” and coined the phrases “the Filner headlock” and “the Filner dance” to describe how he isolates women and then makes unwanted advances, Gonzalez said.
The 70-year-old is fending off calls for his resignation telling a local television stations that his conduct was misinterpreted by staffers. “I’m a hugger of both men and women,” he said.
First, here’s a radical suggestion: if you’ve been accused of systemic sexual harassment, and the evidence looks really bad, don’t use “I’m a hugger” as a defense.
Second, if you’ve allegedly used crude, sexually suggestive, and wildly inappropriate language around women staffers, whether or not you consider yourself a hug aficionado is irrelevant. As defenses go, this is arguably pretty disgusting.
For his part, Filner has acknowledged mistreating women aides, apologized, and said last week he needs “help” – help he intends to receive while staying in office.
That may not be a realistic option under the circumstances.
The lawsuit threats are piling up, and while the allegations against Filner have not been proven, the mayor has faced calls for his ouster from Democrats and Republicans on the City Council. This week, Democratic members of Congress from the area, including Reps. Susan Davis and Scott Peters, also urged Filner to resign.
Given the seriousness of the charges and the number of accusers, the mayor has found himself with very few friends.
“I am devastated,” said Lorena Gonzalez, a state assemblywoman who was secretary-treasurer of the San Diego labor council that pumped close to $2 million into his race. “Until this happened last week, I would have told you we have the most progressive big-city mayor in America. We worked incredibly hard.”
Ms. Gonzalez, after initially saying the decision on whether the mayor should quit should be left to the women affected, changed her mind after talking to two more women who she said worked in his office and described in chilling detail advances, including linking job advancement to sexual favors.
“Before that I had heard about his boorish behavior, generational behavior,” she said. “Inappropriate. But I had not heard anything to make me think he was unfit to be mayor.”