Friday, August 2, 2019

Story #2—Winners and Losers: the San Diego Edition

Stories #1 and #2 are connected by a common thread: the selective system that elevates, protects, and rewards San Diego's compliant players while throwing principled nonconformers to the wolves...

Story #1 revisited the 1984 San Ysidro massacre.  The loss and horror of that event are incalculable.  Yet those who were  responsible--directly (the shooter) or indirectly (certain city officials)--either cannot (the shooter is dead) or will never (the code of silence) answer for the depth of harm inflicted on the victims.  

Not many people think about this story anymore.

Story #2 revisits the Bob Filner story.  It's a third-rate operetta compared to the San Ysidro tragedy.   But sex sells and the Filner story has morphed into a national hit.  The secret of its success is that can serve a wide audience across the political spectrum—left, right, and center.  Like the proverbial gift, it keeps on giving.  

Given its popularity, the time seems right for an updated review of this story.  It needs a thorough airing, even though the dust it raises may irritate some readers.  It’s a small price to pay when good government, transparency, and--above all--accountability are the objectives.

Part I: The Official Story
Chapter 1
The latest resurrection of the Filner story was aimed at Senator Kamala Harris, a presidential candidate from California.  It's an attempt to discredit her for her 2013 failure to throw the accused mayor Bob Filner into prison when she was state Attorney General.  It’s an ironic twist, since Senator Harris had opportunistically jumped the gun and eagerly mounted the anti-Filner bandwagon, even though she had never laid eyes on the man or exchanged a single word with him.  

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t....
But Harris shouldn’t take the attack personally.  The Filter trope is an equal opportunity weapon across many battle arenas.   Check out how it's used against Nancy Pelosi and her "perv problem."  Or against gay rights activists and the Sex-Creep Club.  Or by trendy authors to advance their sociopath theories.  Or by #MeToo victims as grist for a movie plot or memoir.  

And see for yourself how effective the Filner trope is here at home with men like: 
* Labor Council’s Mickey Kasparian 
* County Supervisor Dave Roberts 
* Former councilmember Carl DeMaio
* School Board trustee Kevin Beiser, and recently
* Six male members of the District Attorney's office

Chapter 2
The official storyline goes something like this: Bob Filner, a transplant from the East Coast, spent a couple of decades at SDSU as a professor of history, having made his way to San Diego many years earlier.  He was elected to the board of the San Diego Unified School District.  

In 1987 he was elected and re-elected as a San Diego city council member.  In 1992 Filner won a seat in the United States Congress to represent the San Diego/Imperial County region adjacent to the Mexican border, one of the country's most ethnically diverse districts.

The official story continues: The liberal Democrat Bob Filner was among four main candidates running in the 2012 primary election for San Diego mayor.  The others were conservative Republican Carl DeMaio, moderate Republican Bonnie Dumanis, and Republican (almost-but-not-yet Independent) Nathan Fletcher.

Filner and DeMaio advanced to the November election.  Filner was elected mayor by a margin of 52.5% to 47.5%.  He was the first Democratic mayor to hold office since Maureen O'Connor.  (The city had elected a Democratic mayor in 1899, 1905, 1911, 1913, 1915, 1955, 1963, and 1985.)

Chapter 3
The official story goes on: Within weeks in office, what started as unofficial complaints from three women against the mayor rapidly snowballed into claims from over a dozen women of crude come-ons, intimidating sexual comments, and imprisoning headlocks. 

The official story takes a pivotal turn with an account of the
July 11, 2013 afternoon press conference, organized by three former supporters of the newly-elected mayor, to call for Filner’s immediate resignation.  Two accusers (Donna Frye and Marco Gonzalez) denounced the mayor for sexual abuses.  The third (Cory Briggs) denounced him with charges of corruption.

Chapter 4
The official story tells us that City Attorney Jan Goldsmith boasted about his decisive role in getting rid of the mayor.  

When Filner took office, Goldsmith hired private detectives to trail him and sniff out improprieties.  He deceived Filner with false information and threats of financial ruin, claiming that the city was not obligated to pay for his legal defense.  He had the locks changed to the mayor's office. Did he bug Filner’s office, as some staff members claimed?   

Chapter 5
The story progresses with a steady stream of graphic accounts of Filner's crude behavior. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office launched a hotline so women could register sexual harassment allegations against the mayor.  

The local public news station assembled a phalanx of aggrieved women for explicit interviews.  The services of national celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred were employed.  A news agency on the political right ran this catchy headline: Mayor Filner Grabbed Breasts, A$$, "Shoved Tongue Down Her Throat."

Chapter 6
The official story relates that, effective August 30, 2013, Filner resigned.  On cue, city council president Todd Gloria took over the coveted mayor’s suite to assume the role of acting mayor.  Gloria retained a few of Filner's staffers (e.g., Irene McCormack--the first woman to file a sexual harassment lawsuit), terminated others, and set about reversing a slew of Filner’s executive decisions and policies. 

The official storyline climaxes a few months later when councilmember Kevin Faulconer (formerly a Democrat who turned Republican as an undergraduate at SDSU—any chance he sat in on one of Filner’s history classes??) was elected as San Diego’s new mayor.

Part II: The Unofficial Story
Chapter 7
The unofficial storyline of the rise and fall of Bob Filner reads like plagiarized lift from the movie Chinatown.

By recruiting Bob Filner to run for mayor in 2012, San Diego's Democratic establishment was able to kill two birds with one stone:  
  1. Filner was a safe bet to defeat Carl DeMaio, the candidate Democrats (as well as the city's moderate Republicans) were most worried about; and 
  2. A mayoral win by Filner would initiate a longed-for game of political dominoes.  South Bay politics would be secured as a Latino stronghold when Filner’s seat in the US Congress was freed up for Juan Vargas.  Then Vargas’s State Senate seat would become available for Ben Hueso.  Then Hueso’s State Assembly seat would fall into the lap of Lorena Gonzalez.  
And so it came to pass.
Chapter 8
The unofficial story is a reminder that plenty of people wanted Filner out--ASAP.  Too progressive and brash for Democratic operatives and too threatening for San Diego's Republicans and other business elites, Filner never stood a chance.

Once DeMaio was defeated and the Vargas/Hueso/Gonzalez deal was duly consummated, Filner's usefulness was gone.  Before long, a Recall Filner website was set up and ready to go.   He was a dead man walking.    

Filner had crossed swords with too many of the city's heavyweights.  For starters: the San Diego Chargers; downtown hoteliers; Lorena Gonzalez; Irwin Jacobs (in a harakiri moment, Filner dissed him in public); Todd Gloria; City Attorney Jan Goldsmith; Carl DeMaio; U-T's Doug Manchester...

The story says that interim mayor Todd Gloria played a key role in the Filner ouster, working hand-in-glove with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.  Other schemers included Tom Story of Sunroad Enterprises, who hatched a plot with then-councilmember Faulconer to initiate bogus kickback accusations against him.  Yelling corruption! Cory Briggs hurled this fictitious bombshell at mayor Filner.

Chapter 9
The story plods on: Filner made himself an easy target.

While the personal pursuits of numerous city officials and bigwigs have always been discreetly tolerated, Filner’s pursuit of female company was fair game for exploitation.  The gentleman’s agreement in San Diego was selective.  Its rules would never apply to him.

The unofficial story does not minimize Filner's role in his brutal ouster.  He kidded around too much.  He flirted incessantly.  He lost his temper and berated city personnel.  He was demanding and insensitive to his office staff.  He was bad at delegating authority.  He ignored the warnings of friends and allies.  For an unusually smart man, Filner could be socially inept, retarded, and obtuse.

It wouldn't matter that he was getting good things done for his constituents; that he was a reformer and advocate for the environment, workers, neighborhoods, and cross-border cooperation; that he was making sound decisions on behalf of the public.  His record could not save him.

Chapter 10
The unofficial story gets a boost when foes came up with a surefire formula to get rid of Filner: a massive dose of unrelenting, no holds barred, prurient accusations.  The more bizarre, the more implausible the better.  As predicted, it proved as effective as a sledgehammer.

The unofficial story takes note that Nathan Fletcher—cognizant of the plan and fully confident that the mayor's seat was soon be vacated and could be his--switched his party affiliation for a second time in one year to prepare for another run for mayor, this time as a Democrat.  His political conversion was announced in May, 2013, three months before Filner stepped down.  

Chapter 11
The unofficial story continues as Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, impatiently chafing at the bit,  organized a private meeting of a dozen Democratic politicians to speed up the process of a) getting rid of Filner and b) choosing his successor.
By July, a letter was circulated from a generous Democratic fundraiser (Christine Forester) that read "...we would like to be prepared to immediately call for Nathan Fletcher to run for the office ... to have a letter ready to send to Nathan... (It) would allow him to say that he has received a letter from a bi-partisan group of highly respected leaders in the community (including his current employer QUALCOMM) calling on him to declare as a candidate.” 

Filner resigned a month later.  

But it didn’t work out as planned for Fletcher (much less for the Democrats).  He came in third in the subsequent mayoral primary, behind Democrat David Alvarez.  Then Alvarez lost in the November election to Republican Kevin Faulconer.  And that is how San Diego got from there to here. 


Such is the story of a duly-elected mayor who was taken out—NOT because he was a monster, NOT because he was a fake, NOT because he failed to act in good faith on behalf of his constituents—but because he was not (and would never be) a member of San Diego’s selective gentleman’s club.  

Filner is gone but the game goes on.  With Nathan Fletcher ensconced as a County Supervisor, the city's anointed mayoral contender is now Todd Gloria.  He’s in the bag as San Diego’s latest go-along guy and dependable team player.

But let's step away from politics for a moment and do some soul-searching:
  • Once, we tarred and feathered a mayor for his reprehensible, unacceptable, and obnoxious behavior toward a number of women. 
  • Once, we elected and rewarded a mayor whose incompetence and hubris may well have contributed to the preventable deaths of many innocent San Diegans in San Ysidro. 
  • Once, we elected and reelected a mayor whose incompetence and neglect may have precipitated the deaths of many homeless people on the streets of San Diego. 
The question is: why weren’t they ALL run out of town?