The fun never stops in America’s Finest City.
By Jim Miller
Last week, Irene McCormack delivered Filner the political equivalent of a deathblow. As I noted in the wake of the announcement of her case, “In contrast to the first two press conferences which I think did it the wrong way, in the press conference yesterday McCormack and Allred had fewer dramatics and more professionalism and dignity. I think McCormack deserves to be taken seriously and respected.” And she has been.
Indeed, rather than the “drip, drip, drip” I predicted two weeks ago would “surely force him out or get him recalled”, there has been a deluge.
After McCormack, six other women came out publicly with more accusations of unprofessional and inappropriate if not illegal behavior by the mayor. In the wake of these accusations, the Democratic Party abandoned him, and on Friday he announced that he is going into a treatment program rather than resigning, assuring that this nightmare saga will continue indefinitely.
It was fitting that Filner’s press conference was interrupted by a technical malfunction, as his entire response to the scandal has been slow and inept to the point of absurdity. It’s the perfect storm for the media who joyfully eat up this kind of salacious scandal.
In sum, the mayor has pretty much admitted guilt to all but the technically legal definition of sexual harassment in the workplace. And even if he survives the legal case and stays in office, he likely doesn’t have the political capital to do much good. He is now isolated and alone, admitting vague wrongs and hoping for forgiveness from a mob with pitchforks.
Even if the McCormack case isn’t enough to legally force him from office, her allegations and the chorus of supporting voices have so thoroughly demonized the mayor in the court of public opinion that it makes the notion of redemption the fodder for jokes and further outrage.
The historical irony here is that the strong mayor form of government that might help keep Filner in office was favored by conservatives looking to constrain the power of the City Council which, they thought, was less likely to represent their interests. The current situation was certainly not something they anticipated. Hence the San Diego Union-Tribune’s editorial call over the weekend to revise the city charter to provide for “faster, transparent, and less expensive due process” that would allow the City Council to remove the mayor is an interesting change of course.
As of this writing, by marrying the legal strategy against Filner to the political strategy of demanding immediate resignation the handful of liberals who went out front on this have succeeded in disgracing the mayor but have failed in getting him to leave office. Clearly they thought they could knock him out with shock and awe. Thus far they have not. And given the fact that only a resignation, difficult recall, or felony can remove him from office, there remains the possibility that a disgraced and politically isolated Filner can stick it out. Thus we seem to be in it for the long ugly haul.
So it goes.
Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of Bob Filner?
Elsewhere, the rush has been on to assail not just the mayor but also anyone who supported his campaign and/or policies at any time. The most telling example of this was the CalWatchdog.com piece by Chris Reed entitled, “Liberals Inflicted Filner on San Diego” that excoriated San Diego CityBeat for endorsing Filner for mayor despite concerns.
As Reed says, CityBeat’s editorial endorsement of Filner noted that he was, “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.” Reed then goes on to mention CityBeat’s recent editorial calls for Filner’s resignation but still chides, “It’s good to see the anguish. But it would also be nice to see a flat apology: ‘We were wrong, and we’re sorry we helped Bob Filner gain power.’”
The implication here is that CityBeat editor David Rolland knowing that Filner was difficult and prone to conflict is indistinguishable from knowing that he was a serial groper and would sexually harass employees. This is not fair but that’s where we are now. The strategy here is guilt by association and, more importantly, trying to link the progressive policy agenda of the coalition of folks who elected Filner or even editorialized favorably about him with the profound moral failings of the individual that were later revealed.
By this logic, everyone who voted for Filner after seeing the nasty campaign should also be held to account as complicit in his bad behavior. The world’s just not that simple, but it’s an easy, effective political attack and the circular firing squad on the liberal to left side of the aisle is always willing to help make things easier for our political opponents on the right. There is surely a lot more of this to come from the right and from bandwagon journalists who never fail to take up the role of political ambulance chasers seeking drama without insight.
So it goes.
History is the Narrative that Hurts
The irony of CityBeat being taken to task by the right is that in the second editorial Reed cites, Rolland was chiding, “[liberals] who can’t bear to consider life after Filner need to get a grip. He’s not nearly as inspiring or effective as they portray him to be. We suggest they start to coalesce around someone who can pick up and carry the mantle, who isn’t crippled by severe personality disorders. As McCormack said Monday, ‘A man who lacks character makes a mockery of his ideas.’ Filner has good ideas about how government should serve its citizens, but he’s stripped himself of the credibility needed to see them to fruition.”
Much of this is accurate except for the notion that the last election was all about Filner. It wasn’t. It wasn’t Filner-as-messiah the folks who worked hard and elected the mayor believed in, it was the possibility of a progressive San Diego that Filner’s politics made possible. Folks saw the opportunity for a historically unprecedented administration with an open door to activists working on social justice issues ranging from workers’ rights and environmental issues to more equitable city planning and new resources for historically neglected communities of color.
The tragedy here is that in terms of policy, Filner is the only progressive mayor to ever win in the history of San Diego. Period. So his betrayal of those ideals is far more profound and damaging than Rolland’s assessment portrays it to be. Forget Filner, it’s the evisceration of the progressive brand that has astute progressives rightfully mourning while the political right is basking in ecstatic glee.
I wish this were not true, but, if you know San Diego’s history, you know it is.
And though the demographics of the city changed significantly enough to make Filner’s election possible, progressives don’t have a deep enough bench of electable candidates to go with this new electorate. Thus, the Filner flameout likely means a very long spell in the wilderness for those working for a host of social justice issues. As a friend put it, “back to a supine position, begging for crumbs at the table.”
So it goes.
But if we take CityBeat’s suggestion seriously, who would be there to “carry the mantle” if a recall succeeds? Let’s speculate. With a short bench of progressives, what’s the endgame in the case of a resignation or, more likely, a recall?
One line of progressive reasoning would be to recruit a liberal woman like Toni Atkins, Marti Emerald, Christine Kehoe, Donna Frye, Lori Saldana, or Shirley Weber to run as a redemptive answer to Filner’s sins (none have said they are interested and all would have their detractors). That said, in a recall or special election in an off year, the electorate is guaranteed to be more conservative and definitely not favorable to this possibility.
That leaves us with the corporate Democrat, Todd Gloria, whose stance on social issues might be too liberal even though his economic policies are frequently in line with downtown interests. He has also developed a healthy line of critics on the left.
Finally there is the savior-in-waiting, Nathan Fletcher, whose entrance into the fray as a Democrat coming from a conservative background might be enough to win some middle of the road voters. Then who knows what he would say or believe or do if he won?
But far more likely than this is the possibility that Carl DeMaio stays in the race for congress where he will defeat the bland corporate Democrat Scott Peters and have bigger possibilities ahead and we end up electing Kevin Faulconer.
Faulconer would have a huge fundraising advantage garnering support from all the usual suspects downtown and benefit from an energized base geared up to hand it to the liberals, unions, minorities, and other foul “special interest groups” that they’ll blame for bringing us the evil that was Bob Filner. With the Democrats dispirited, humiliated and divided, it might not even be much of a fight.
Combine this with the fact that the Filner mess just made the City Council races in Districts 2 and 6 tough to win and you see what a gift this all is for the local right. As I said when this scandal first hit, it will take a long time to recover from this.
Welcome back to business as usual in San Diego.
So it goes.