Things Fall Apart: Filner’s Betrayal and the “Political Circus”

by on July 15, 2013 · 27 comments

in Columns, Editor's Picks, Encore, Government, Politics, Under the Perfect Sun

…the real winners here are the same old downtown insiders who are busy popping champagne corks and laughing at Filner’s implosion and cheering the welcome help they are getting from unlikely sources. 

Downtown-sdfpBy Jim Miller

Whatever the end result of the Filner sexual harassment scandal, it’s clear that even if the mayor beats the odds and survives, his credibility and ability to move a bold populist agenda is severely damaged.

Hence, San Diego’s first truly progressive mayor may have squandered the opportunity to be a transformative figure, the progressive fighter and game changer we had hoped he would be. Worst of all by engaging in abusive behavior towards women, Filner has betrayed the core principles of any progressive politics by failing to respect the civil rights and humanity of women. We don’t need to hear all of the details to know that this is true–he has admitted as much himself.

Additionally, and equally important, Filner’s actions are a betrayal to all those in the broad, historic progressive coalition who worked to elect him. I have spoken to dozens of my friends in labor and community activist groups over the last few days and folks are universally angry and depressed. His fall from grace will have broad and long-term consequences, disillusioning and discouraging people from hoping for change in our city and, discrediting by proxy those who aggressively contest the entrenched interests that Filner had rightfully been fighting. It will take a long time to recover from this.

In addition to the women victimized by Filner’s behavior, the losers in all of this are the people who had never before had a real champion in the mayor’s office—taxi drivers, hotel workers, and the working poor struggling for a living wage; the homeless and forgotten; and the residents of neglected neighborhoods and all of us who never thought we would see a mayor who would challenge the shadow government of private interests that has run this city for its entire history. Of course, San Diego’s power elite hates Filner and was out for blood from the beginning, so his reckless behavior in his workplace is not just morally wrong but criminally stupid.

Ironically, it was not his enemies on the right who have brought Filner down, but former supporters of the mayor. Indeed, as I write this they are building their case by bringing damaging evidence of Filner’s misdeeds to his supporters to pressure him to resign. The calls are in from Lorena Gonzalez to Toni Atkins for the mayor to step down with more to come. There are promises of impending lawsuits and whispers that Marco Gonzalez’s phone is ringing off the hook with stories from other victims.

The sad reality is that whether all of this is true or not, the drip, drip, drip of garbage will surely force him out or eventually get him recalled.

However surreal and Kafkaesque the press conference that Gonzalez, Frye, and Briggs held was, it was politically effective. And, well-intended or not, their actions set a dangerous precedent of trial by press conference with no evidence. Even scoundrels deserve due process and it was a strange twist of fate that last week it was Manchester’s Union-Tribune that reminded us of this while the CityBeat called on Filner to resign.

While Filner’s apology certainly indicates that there is fire beneath the smoke, to think that a mayor of a major American city should step down without any due process being followed is dangerous. And the reports that some of the same crowd pushing this are simultaneously promoting the ever-opportunistic Nathan Fletcher as our savior in the wings ready to face off against his former Republican allies in a special election should raise some eyebrows. If it was the Lincoln Club doing this, the left would be up in arms about the process. It just doesn’t pass the smell test.

The sad truth here is most likely this: Filner is a creep who betrayed us and crushed our hopes and our self-appointed saviors speaking in the community’s name have overstepped and engaged in a political strategy that, if successful, would let the future of our city be shaped by a handful of insiders who decide the game before anyone even gets the full story.

By demanding Filner’s resignation before the full disclosure of the facts, this strategy seeks to close off the possibility of either redemption and/or a consideration of the option that a one term damaged and humbled Filner might be undesirable but less bad than the alternative and give progressives a chance to come up with a better plan. Maybe, maybe not, but their strategy seeks to kill this discussion before it has a chance to happen.

Trying Filner in the court of public opinion before anything is brought to bear is a skillful strategy for a lawyer but it disrespects the public’s right to know the full story before deciding what is the right course of action. “Just trust me,” doesn’t cut it. Bottom line: whether it’s right wing business interests, Democratic insiders, or powerful attorneys pulling the strings, this kind of inside game maneuvering does a disservice to genuine democracy. It’s business as usual all over again and odds are the die is already cast.

Thus, the real winners here are the same old downtown insiders who are busy popping champagne corks and laughing at Filner’s implosion and cheering the welcome help they are getting from unlikely sources. Unless something unexpected happens, whichever of the usual suspects ends up as our next mayor, the return to normalcy will mean a return to San Diego politics as we have always known them: welcome back to America’s finest tourist plantation. It’s a political circus that makes clowns of us all.

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Jim Miller

Jim Miller, a professor at San Diego City College, is the co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See and Better to Reign in Hell, and author of the novel Drift. His most recent novel on the San Diego free speech fights and the IWW, Flash, is on AK Press.
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avatar bob dorn July 15, 2013 at 8:08 am

This one you’ve just written is a stinker, Jim Miller.
You’re trying to have it both ways; appear reasonable and judicious when you write, “Filner’s apology certainly indicates that there is fire beneath the smoke,” thus joining the Democrats who denounce him by inference and rumor, and in the next moment admitting that “their actions set a dangerous precedent of trial by press conference with no evidence. ”
The gang of fools who’ve lighted their torches offer us a chance to confront ourselves in the mirror and consider whether this town can grow up into an urban democracy, or remain a closely held corporation run by CEOs and their Democratic party jive-stooges.
When you attempt to square the circle and call Filner “a creep who betrayed us and crushed our hopes” you’ve joined the fools and abandoned the idea of full public disclosure and due process.

avatar Jim Miller July 15, 2013 at 9:00 am

Bob, in his DVD he admits to intimidating and not fully respecting women. Fact. This makes him a creep and permanently damages his political credibility with many in the progressive community. This matters for both moral and practical political reasons. The entire last part of this piece is a critique of the disregard for due process, so it is simply not the case that I am joining crowd who don’t believe in it. I didn’t call for resignation. I’m simply analyzing the moral and political situation here and pointing out both that Filner blew it by engaging in shoddy behavior that he admits to AND that the public trial by press conference undermines due process. If Filner had not released the DVD, it would be different. Sadly, it is not.

Look, for those who don’t know this, I worked on an independent campaign for Filner both in the primary and general election. I had fundraisers for him at my home. An army of student interns, a majority of them young women, took part in this effort. Some requested letters of rec from me to work in his office. To hear the mayor admit that he has behaved in a way that put them at risk of disrespect and intimidation makes me sick to my stomach. Last week I had to explain what he apologized for to my 9 year old son with my wife, a lifelong feminist and Filner supporter. He had been proud to have had the mayor in his home and did a class presentation about it in school. Big fun. By the way, we told him that we didn’t know what would happen as he would get a chance to defend himself because that’s how the system works. Thought I got that notion across here, but perhaps not.

One of the sad realities of this situation is that it has already split the progressive community. In addition to your comment, I have already received personal communications from the other side taking issue with me for not fully understanding the need to protect the victims.

My position is that what the mayor has admitted to is reprehensible but that he still deserves due process and those seeking to derail that and run him out of office without it are wrong to do so and are showing an arrogant disregard for “genuine democracy” and “due process.”

Sometimes two facts we hate can be true at the same time. Both sides are wrong here in different ways. And the real losers here are the rest of us. With great respect, Jim

avatar crusty July 15, 2013 at 9:27 am

The article here makes excellent points about the disregard of due process, and rightfully takes the local ‘progressive’ politicians to task for leading the discussion off the cliff before many questions are fully answered. But, to me, the failure to ‘the why’ of local Democrats appear so quick to crucify one of their own without ‘due process’ has as much to do with the aspirations of a new state-level politician to quickly sweep an embarrassment under the rug and divert attention from the pattern of policy betrayal and cozying up to wealthy interests that has been the mark of the Democrat. The real take-away, in my opinion, is the absolutely foolish ‘lesser evil’ thinking that led so many ‘progressives’ to believe in a Democratic savior – when the Democratic party has been the party of co-option and betrayal of social movements since at least the time of William Jennings Bryan in the 19th c. Democrat politicians = perennial betrayal.

avatar Ken July 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm

But, to me, the failure to ‘the why’ of local Democrats appear so quick to crucify one of their own without ‘due process’ has as much to do with the aspirations of a new state-level politician to quickly sweep an embarrassment under the rug and divert attention from the pattern of policy betrayal and cozying up to wealthy interests that has been the mark of the Democrat.

The realpolitik of this matter will elude those who believe that Filner deserves due process. The best thing for the most people would be for Filner to resign.

avatar JEC July 15, 2013 at 9:27 am

Jim, perhaps you know. I’ve read the stories, I watched the press conference that offer no information – we all hear that Filner has behaved in dastardly ways – but what did he do? Filner has a reputation for being rude, insensitive. So please, if you know, tell us what he did – specifically because no complaints have been filed. And we don’t need names. What, when, where, how will do it.

avatar Doug Porter July 15, 2013 at 9:56 am

Watch the news at 11am this morning. Sworn statements from women will be presented.
See the story on KPBS.org this morning about Bronwyn Ingram’s statement…

What a mess.

avatar Dave Chase July 15, 2013 at 9:59 am

Thank You Jim for your report and insights. I am in shock , as I had a feeling that Filner’s election represented beginning of the dawn of a new era of the rise of progressive politics and actions in San Diego. As your report so aptly illustrates, regardless of guilt, Filner’s reign and the hope for a progressive direction for this city has taken a huge blow. The wealthy power brokers in their fancy elite plush restaurants and bars, will continue to remain firmly in control behind the scenes, forever screwing the non wealthy and getting away with property, financial and environmental crimes, through genocide, lies and propaganda, as they have since europeans took this land from the local native americans. I am very sad at this turn of events.

avatar John July 15, 2013 at 10:34 am

San Diego’s level of corruption is a lot craftier than some gave it credit for.
Take a new and unsettling mayor, long known for “woman trouble” in his past life in D.C. and allege new victimizations, but never allow any victims to come forward with their stories and excuse this by claiming that the women involved do not wish to be further victimized by the mayor and his presumed underlings (allegedly willing to do harm), the press, and of course the courts which may, if a charge is brought, make public the accusation and move to a public trial.
Add to this a chorus of staff fleeing the mayor’s sinking ship, claiming it’s because of his odious behavior, a press that can’t discover any victim and get a story, the sudden activation of every media hanger-on as a bold email advocate on why Filner has to go while primly claiming that women are too delicate to be questioned and that the rights of anonymous victims must be protected—-even if no one knows who they are, and contrast this with a weird and transparently cynical “apology” by hizzoner that failed to deflect the pressing need to dump him and you have a fantastic coup d’theatre worthy of Rabelais, Fellini or John Waters himself!….who knew that little old San Diego could pull something worthy of Master and Marguerita? Hunter Thompson or Ambrose Bierce couldn’t touch this!
Theater reviews aside, it is a grim lesson for the future here; the lesson is that a complete fiction can play better than principle or even reality and that all that has to happen to change the political landscape is to bring about a chorus of damnation instead of one truthful victim willing to file a complaint and let the law and courts take their course. San Diego politics no longer needs reality; it is making its own. The pols’ revolution is happening in real time, shouted from the talking heads, shouting down dissent and shutting off the cops, courts and legal system entirely, but it’s going to get its way and shape the reality its owners want.
The lingering question is, how long will their new reality stay sane?

avatar Laura E. July 15, 2013 at 1:55 pm

It’s the timing of all of this that bothers me the most. Bob Filner has been a public figure for decades. Why didn’t these allegations come out when he was running for mayor? Why now, when he’s been under attack from the time he took the oath of office? Why did his fellow Democrats decide now was the time to call to make this accusations and call for his resignation, when he was already in a weakened position?

avatar Peter July 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Lori Saldana says she did tell the local Dems a few years ago. Maybe that’s why Filner endorsed Scott Peters rather than her? But I, too, am wondering why DeMaio’s campaign, not to mention the Manchester goons, didn’t use this against Filner if it was so widely known. It’s not exactly as if the last mayoral election was mud free.

avatar Ken July 15, 2013 at 3:55 pm

It wasn’t just Filner picking Peters over Saldaña that gave the D nod to Peters for the CA-52, it was the whole Democratic county machine that picked Peters.

avatar bob dorn July 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I’ve got nothing but respect, John, for these lines of yours:
“San Diego politics no longer needs reality; it is making its own. The pols’ revolution is happening in real time, shouted from the talking heads, shouting down dissent and shutting off the cops, courts and legal system entirely…”
The speed with which this “coup d’ theatre,” as someone else has put it, has eliminated the idea that Filner should be subjected to a recall election — or, probably more fitting and convincing, an investigation — suggests that the town will remain the cash cow of the psychopaths who have ascended to their positions of power. They’re strengthening their control, now, through Clear Channel News operations at KOGO and Channel 10, VOSD and, of course Manly Dougchester’s
S–T.

avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman July 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm

You are hilarious, John, with your “coup de teatre worthy of Rabelais, Fellini or John
Waters himself!” This is what I need to read today, and I am feeling much better for it.

I want to repeat: It ain’t over til it’s over, and that’s a long time from now. We just need
to choke out the word “liberal “– let’s shelve that weaseley “progressive”– and face the fact that we survive because Filner is not resigning and consequently will have to be more responsive to our interests after this bloodletting.

avatar Cynthia July 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Well said. Not often do we get to hear of Ambrose Bierce.

avatar John July 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm

It seems to me you’ve posted 4 paragraphs of embellished rhetoric to, in the end, dismiss this matter as pure fiction. Didn’t happen.
If that’s the case please do simplify it and state your positions so that when it all plays out after “due process” is given, everyone’s personal credibility can be measured when the next scandal involving the oppositions’s candidate emerges.
Where I’m going with this is it appears Filner is being given more than reasonable benefit of doubt on a matter which contradicts the party platform of feminist progress in the workplace, because he’s “gettin ‘er done” politically. There is little doubt if he was a conservative mayor all would be complaining that feminist progress in the workplace was job 1.
In the end you’ll have betrayed a core issue of your platform for the sake of others as no one will take feminist progress in the workplace seriously when you give Filner a free pass on it.
That’s why I support issues, not candidates nor parties.

avatar Judith Wesling July 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm

John, I totally agree with you. The situation brings to mind those oh-so-delicate Victorian ladies wringing their hands and holding a lace handkerchief to their noses. We still have no information about what the charges are and to what level of employee. Too late now, I guess, the train has left the station (not too late regarding “resignation–I am opposed to that) -but to these women standing up for themselves at the time and just saying KNOCK IT OFF BOB. Women will never attain positions of power if they don’t empower themselves to begin with, rather than falling back on Marco Gonzalez et al to avenge their poor little selves. Protecting them from the mayor, my foot. Come out and give us the charge, and let us decide rather than the rabidly anti-Filner UT.

avatar Lori Saldaña July 15, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Thank you Jim, good analysis.

You wrote:”Indeed, as I write this they are building their case by bringing damaging **evidence** of Filner’s misdeeds to his supporters to pressure him to resign. ” I’ve seen no evidence acceptable in the legal sense, but lots of salacious readings of testimony that, while terrible on a personal level, may not rise to a the definition of criminal behavior.

I just posted some thoughts on Facebook after todays news conference: why arent the women willing to speak on the record? I’m not doubting the women- I’m questioning the tactics of their attorneys.

If you want to help the women and the city move forward, this is not the way to do it.

If you want to depose the Mayor, and bring in your choice for the office- this IS the way to do it.

Here is the difference between what I saw today, and what I did in 2011: Two years ago, I came forward in an effort to PREVENT exactly this from happening, and ensure no more women would be harassed.

The women I spoke to had no interest in filing a lawsuit, and I heard no evidence of criminal behavior- just their reports of a serious lack of judgement and questionable interpersonal skills. Filner harassed them personally, but not criminally.

Today’s non-news conference presented similar anecdotes, but not legal evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

In July 2011 I made my report to a person who had a relationship with Filner that I (wrongly) believed could lead to a change in his behavior.

I did not intend to file a lawsuit. If you intend to file a lawsuit, then do the investigation, file the court documents… And THEN hold a news conference.

You and I seem to agree: There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye…

avatar Judith Wesling July 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Excellent and reasoned comment Lori.

avatar Anna Daniels July 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm

“I’m not doubting the women- I’m questioning the tactics of their attorneys.” That sums it up for me Lori.

avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman July 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Lori, thank you for trying to save us. Strong women save themselves. Bottom line: due process absolutely matters. Lynching is a no-no.

Jim Miller, this was a great essay. Your analysis is right-on. But years of political disappointment and a moment of hope have left you devastated and too dark. I think Filner can transcend the drip, drip, drip. He can govern in spite of everything that’s transpired, if he commits to personal change and he has said he will. (He is surely at rock-bottom today.)

Recall and resigning. Remember it’s tough and expensive to recall somebody. Recall requires a vote of the people, and voters know Filner wants to improve the city. He doesn’t want to resign and he shouldn’t resign, for the reasons you describe. He has work to do and the intelligence and energy to make good things happen.

This is an imperfect world. Politics in San Diego are just incredible. We’ve got a newly-elected liberal Mayor with sexual power issues. I’m telling you, it could be worse. (Carl DeMaio, Nathan Whatisname.) We need to suck up the incredulity and the disappointment, accept the things we cannot change and change those things we can.

avatar julia blake July 15, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I love the talking heads wondering where “the women” are and why they are not advocating Filner retire? Why? Because his likely replacement will be some conservative member of the opposing party. And, we know they put women on a pedastal, but do not allow them to think.

Filner made mistakes, but removing him by press conference is not democratic.

Perhaps Filner will learn from this and be an even better politician. He is the only mayor in my memory who is a champion for those with no power and little money. He cares about neighborhoods,

I, a feminist and mother of daughters, want him to stay.

avatar Gary Ghirardi July 19, 2013 at 5:09 am

Women who want to be part of a new future need to stand behind this mayor and hold him accountable for his inappropriate behavior. He was not elected to be a zn example of male perfection and the road to political choices past the middle-left to true popular innovation includes the step of the Filners. In my new adopted country women now hold the positions of Minister of Defense and Minister of Prisons, traditionally male dominated roles. There are a higher ratio of women in congress in Kenya and Pakistan than in the United States. The U.S. democracy that is so touted in its propaganda falls way below the mark in reality. If Filner and his ilk are to be a trend towards popularizing U.S. Government, from the municipal level up, progressives and liberals need to get real and toughen up and claim their space and take no prisoners or you will constantly fall down against the corrupt practices of the American Right!

avatar John Lawrence July 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

This media blowout will soon pass as most media blowouts do when the next more salacious tidbit of reality intrudes its ugly head. Did Filner rape anyone? No. That is a criminal offense. If everyone that made an unwelcome advance toward a woman was hounded from his job, there wouldn’t be any jobholders left. And maybe some of the advances were not all that unwelcome. We have to make a distinction between criminal culpability (of which Filner evidently has none) and unsocially acceptable behavior.

Filner needs to grow up and learn what is and is not socially acceptable behavior especially for someone in public office. He needs to mind his Ps and Qs from now on. His behavior needs to be exemplary.

I also question whether the whole thing wasn’t instigated by Republican operatives including women who would like to see Filner twisting in the wind. Perhaps this is why none of them will come forward. They might all be Republicans.

And why hasn’t Filner’s behavior been questioned for the last ten years while evidently he has had the same modus operandi? Why now is there a rush to judgment?

Filner should stay in his job for the sake of all the progressive change he could make and despite all the embarrassing trivia that could be heaped upon him.

There are enough examples in politics including Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford, David Vitter, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and many others who did things far worse then Filner including allegedly criminal behavior and who, nevertheless, are still politically thriving.

San Diego, grow up.

avatar Cynthia July 21, 2013 at 7:12 pm

John, I agree with the distinction between criminal and socially unacceptable behavior. And thanks for not adding an s to the word ‘behavior’. :)

avatar John July 24, 2013 at 9:41 pm

John if you don’t recognize that forcibly shoving your tongue in someone else’s mouth is defined under the penal code as assault and more than qualifies it as criminal behavior, you’re seriously in denial and perhaps shouldn’t further comment on the issue.
Oh and Bill Clinton is still politically thriving? While your very reply is evidence he still has legions of fans on the internet and elsewhere promoting him as the greatest thing since sliced bread, I might remind you it’s been fully 17 years since he’s won any sort of election.
So in closing, it’s not 1996, and grabbing women and french kissing them is against the law.
Damn the reality of it all, I wish it wasn’t true!

avatar Jo July 18, 2013 at 3:37 pm

“Worst of all by engaging in abusive behavior towards women, Filner has betrayed the core principles of any progressive politics by failing to respect the civil rights and humanity of women” Hmmm. I thought he was “accused.” Why are people so quick to assume it is true, merely b/c someone says it is?

Very Kafkaesque indeed. “Lack of evidence is treated as a pesky inconvenience, to be circumvented by such Kafkaesque means as depositing unproven allegations into sealed files ..

Unknown women, unknown charges, unable to face his unknown accusers, mock trial by media. It’s coming to this where a Mayor is asked to resign just based on unproven accusations.

Filner does have a reputation for being rude and insensitive. Nothing new there.

I agree with Judith Wesling. Women will never attain positions of power if they don’t empower themselves to begin with. Stop being the victims and assert yourselves.

I also agree with Julia Blake. I hope Filner will rise above this and evolve into a better person and better politician. He has done a lot of good for this city in the short time he’s been in office.

avatar Nicole Molina July 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Thank you Jim for a lucid and very to the point explanation of what is really going on behind the scene. I concur totally with your opinion that the people who are denouncing Filner and want him to resign have played so adroitly into the hands of the Manchesters and company. Unfortunetly for the people of San Diego we are in danger of loosing the one and only Mayor who could have turned the city into a model of progressivness and bring fair play into the dealings of the city.
I thank you for speaking out. Before we accuse we should know all the facts.

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