Longtime Filner staffers had to know, so why was behavior allowed to continue?
By Andy Cohen
LA Times columnist George Skelton recently wrote about the similarities between sports and politics, about how the most successful players in both professions possess similar qualities, similar competitiveness. “Arrogance and egos afflict both, for example,” he wrote, “although politicians tend to be more charming.”
Sports terms are often used to describe successes or failures in politics (and just about every other facet of life for that matter). A well delivered speech can be a “home run,” a last ditch, desperate attempt at compromise on a piece of legislation in an effort to garner enough votes to push a bill over the “finish line” is sometimes referred to as a “Hail Mary.” Campaigns are “horse races.”
We often think of our elected officials as solitary pieces of a larger puzzle, but they’re not. Like a head coach, each pol is the head of a team within the league (Assembly, Senate, City Council, etc.). And like any head coach, be it football, basketball, baseball, or any other team sport, the guy in charge is only as good as the assistants around him or her. Each member of the U.S. Congress or Senate has a team of people working behind the scenes. Every campaign has an army of people working toward one goal: To win the election for their candidate.
In a way, politics should be viewed as a team sport, and every politician is only as good and as competent as the staff he hires to work for him.
As more and more details of the Bob Filner sexual harassment scandal come out, I am reminded of Marty Schottenheimer’s first couple of years with the Chargers as head coach. Stick with me, here. It’ll all make sense. I promise.
Marty had a long history of success as a head coach in The League, first with the Cleveland Browns, twice bringing his team to the brink of a Super Bowl berth, and then with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he amassed a pile of regular season wins and was a perennial playoff participant.
Marty also had his down years, which led to his dismissal in K.C. and at his next stop in Washington (although that also had a lot to do with a new, egomaniacal owner). I asked Jimmy Raye, at the time the Chargers Director of College Scouting and previously a part of Schottenheimer’s staff in Kansas City, what the difference between the successful years and the dismal years were. It’s the coaches he has around him, he said.
Marty Schottenheimer was a notorious micromanager, but when he had really good coaches—particularly offensive and defensive coordinators—who weren’t afraid to stand up to him and tell him to butt out and let them do their jobs, the Chiefs won….and won a LOT.
We saw that manifest itself here in San Diego. After two rough years, Wade Phillips came aboard as defensive coordinator, and along with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron the Chargers rose to elite status in The League. But after a 14-2 season that saw the departure of both Cameron and Phillips for head coaching positions elsewhere, Marty the Micromanager was about to make his return, so the team decided to part ways. (We can argue about the semantics, and whether or not it was the right decision all day long and never come to an agreement. I’m just saying that this was the decision process in a very small nutshell.)
Which brings me around to Bob Filner. This is a guy who has been in politics in San Diego for 30 years. He often likes to boast that he’s never lost an election. But now we have these sexual harassment allegations that are pretty damn serious and threaten to not only end his career, but tarnish his long history of accomplishments, locally and in a 20 year career in Congress.
Eight women have now come forward to accuse him of, in some cases, grossly inappropriate behavior toward them, with most incidents having taken place a number of years ago. The fact that Bob Filner can be difficult, cantankerous, intimidating when he wants his way (which is nearly always), abrasive, and occasionally abusive to his staff doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. After all, San Diego’s known him for THIRTY YEARS.
But we didn’t know about the sexual harassment accusations, and we should have. Long ago. Those around him should have put a stop to it long ago. Instead, they’ve acted as enablers, sweeping it under the rug even if privately they were disgusted by his actions.
As with Marty Schottenheimer, Bob Filner is only as good as his assistants, and that means strong staffers who are confident, competent, and willing to stand up to the boss and speak truth to power. Judging merely by what we now know, it doesn’t appear that anyone has ever stood up to Bob in any meaningful way to tell him to knock it off, that his behavior was unacceptable and inappropriate. Until now.
Where were his longtime and most trusted advisers all this time? Where were Vince Hall, Allen Jones, and Tony Buckles, all of whom had worked for Filner for years? What did they ever say to their boss regarding his behavior? Women who had dealt with Filner would often refer to him as “creepy.” His staffers had to know.
Laura Fink, accuser number two, sent an email letter to Filner and his then Chief of Staff Tony Buckles complaining about an incident at a campaign event. But in an interview with KPBS she said that Filner offered only a “mumbled” apology. This was in 2005. The message was clearly not received, and one wonders if Buckles even bothered to pull Filner aside and discussed it with him, or did he merely say “go apologize and be done with it?”
This past June Jones and Hall both stepped down in solidarity with Irene McCormack, Filner’s former communications director and the first woman to go public, with Hall citing his work as a “lifelong activist for women’s rights and equality.” The timing of Jones’ departure was at least a little dubious given the weight of the latest Sunroad scandal on him personally. So why did it take them so long to take a stand?
It is apparent that Filner truly did not know how offensive his behavior and treatment of some women was. He did not understand the seriousness of his actions. He should have known, but he had been doing it for 30 years and apparently no one ever stood up to him and said “NO.” Continuously getting away with it sent a signal that it was okay.
“People don’t change unless there’s tension,” Filner once told VOSD’s Liam Dillon. So where was the tension to get him to change his own ways?
Filner’s actions and behavior is a personal failing, and it’s something he is going to have to fix and atone for. But that it was allowed to continue for so many years is a failure of the people around him; people who could have put a stop to it a long, long time ago.
Well done, much respect on multiple fronts. (always wondered what was up with Marty ball, this was the rare analogy that worked- too often analogies are used when the argument on the actual issue is hopeless, the successful ones frame the argument in terms with broader appeal)
You shed light on a subject that was a mystery, why hadn’t this surfaced long ago? This does give Filner’s critics the ability to clear one more hurdle against his supporters but such objectivity is undeniable journalistic integrity appearing in this blog.
John Lawrence says
I wonder how many of Filner’s accusers are Republicans and how many Democrats. It seems he has pissed off a lot of powerful women including a vice Admiral and a port director among others. Usually those kind of successful and powerful women are Repubs. I just wonder if this all of a sudden piling on of Filner after being a San Diego politician for 30 years is part of the same campaign to get rid of him before any of the sexual harassment charges came to light.
It seems self-evident to me, John. No wondering at all.
Let’s keep a close eye on donations to the Democrats. The local republicans have been trying to remove him since the night he was elected. He obviously is doing exactly what needed to be done, not necessarily toeing the party line and angered some… and one little Democrat vulture in particular wants to be Mayor so bad he can taste it. Dems are in bed together with the developers and hoteliers. Ever since the city council passed that ridiculously expensive plan for Balboa Park last Summer, I’ve been convinced that they were laying the groundwork for the real plan, which was to raze Balboa Stadium and build a new Chargers stadium at the South end of Balboa Park. It would be a much easier sell with the infrastructure of parking and a trolley station already in place. I’d like to see Filner stay. For all of his faults…I honestly believe he’s working for the people of San Diego, which we haven’t seen since Mayor Maureen.
I heartily endorse your conclusions and reasoning thereto.
Its funny to me as someone who has been in the private workforce that most of what I am hearing is that it is the responsibility of those around him to prevent these problems. Is he 6 or 60? I have known about the type of harassment he is accused of for years and the company I work for has had a zero tolerance policy for 20 years. So I’m sorry but the ” he just didn’t know ” crap is just that. Just once it would be nice for someone to be a man about this stuff and shoulder the blame for what he clearly knows he did wrong. I guess I am fantasizing, after all this is a politician we are speaking of. The fact that you are in agreement with the lawyer on this is comical!
Andy Cohen says
Let’s put it this way: If it happened in your company, someone would have said something and the behavior would have been stopped. Quickly. He should have known better, yes. But after a years long pattern of behavior emerges, doesn’t it seem reasonable that his high level staffers at least would pull him aside and say something about it? By your own admission, that’s what would happen in almost any other company.
The bottom line for me: If he was told in no uncertain terms to stop–especially by people he trusts–and refused, that’s one thing and it indicates that he may just be irredeemable. But if his staffers knew what was going on and no one stepped up to him and took a stand and allowed it to continue, then they’re at least partially culpable in my book. This does not absolve him of responsibility. But people are wired differently, and for some reason the wiring in his brain told him it was okay, until someone told him otherwise.
Lori Saldaña says
According to Durfee, Filner’s response to my concerns was: “no one has filed a complaint against me.” Jess also said Filner was a single man, as i that excused the behavior, Which made me wonder if Durfee understood what I was telling him about Filner’s actions.
This wasn’t a “bad date.” It was flagrant and offensive harassment that women did not appreciate.
So clearly his standards were based on someone filing a formal complaint. Personal admonitions and requests to stop were not sufficient to change his behavior.
That’s one reason why I have been encouraging people to step forward and file public complaints. people who tried to deal with this privately met with failure, and that’s why we are here today.
Andy Cohen says
OK, and that says something. But my question still stands: What if someone such as Allen Jones or Vince Hall had stood up to him years ago? Like I said below, Durfee is more or less an outsider to him, so it’s not all that surprising that Filner responded the way he did.
It would be more disturbing to me if Durfee had then gone to his chief of staff to discuss it. People on the outside often have ulterior motives, and Filner obviously doesn’t trust outsiders (mostly with good reason). But if it then came from someone within his own circle, I wonder what kind of effect it would have then? We saw him finally take the matter seriously when McCormack confronted him and Jones subsequently stepped down because of it. Why didn’t something of that nature take place years ago?
During a presser shortly after Jones left, he was asked about it (at the time we didn’t have any of the sordid details yet). He acknowledged that he was very difficult to work for. He also said that if a “friend like Allen Jones” feels that way, then I’m doing something wrong and I need to do some serious soul searching….or words to that effect. He was hit pretty hard by what took place in that closed door meeting (and again, we didn’t find out the details until much later). Filner was pretty contrite at that moment, and none of us media types present had any idea exactly why yet.
I agree that public complaints were quite appropriate, and to the same degree, also calling for his resignation as punishment of some sort was most inappropriate.
Judith Wesling says
This is a great analysis and answers a lot of questions I have had- like when the women were bothered, if they told Filner to knock it off and he continued with the boorish behavior to them. I can hardly (that means not at all) believe that Froman could not control the situation. After so many years in the Navy?
Let’s consider what came first, the chicken or the egg. The two press conferences, called by local notables, saying that this all existed and the mayor should resign, came first. No details and no due process. Only when some in the general public complained about no proof for the histrionic second presser, was it announced that a complaint and suit had been officially filed. Almost as if the first call for resignation got no traction, so the mayor’s foes implemented Plan B. And Ms. McCormack’s attorney said if the mayor resigned, the suit might go away. What?
Some of the publicized complaints are years old, validating my claim of suddenly piling on. And the whole thing stinks of patronizing, the delicate woman Victorian attitude. Again, while I am sympathetic to these women’s complaints of boorish behavior from Bob, (and I am a woman myself), I object to the approach that these women had no recourse.
Didn’t anyone think of saying – you can’t treat me like that?
Of course I am suspicious of the hoteliers (the largest of them the owner of the UT which is selling papers based on this “story”), developers and City Council members who are, some of them, beholden to the people Bob has upended; and some of whom are just trying to sniff which way the wind is blowing – and some who desperately want to be mayor themselves.
Mayor Filner should not resign, and we concerned citizens should tell the overeager/beaver media (UT, KPBS, Channel 10, Voice) to just calm down. It’s the summer recess, the city can run while mayor AND Council are away. The mayor’s attorney has the right and duty to ask for legal costs to be covered. And so on.
You and others here are ignoring details of these reported incidents in which the women said they told him to knock it off or took additional action.
It is a myth being perpetuated on these pages that these women all just took the abuse and said nothing about it, with the predictable victim-blaming dismissal that “women need to know how to say no.”
They all said no. One documented the incident in an email and copied his chief of staff. One said, “get out of my office.” Filner ignored them. I don’t disagree that party leaders and his own staffers should have taken a public stand sooner and didn’t because they were too focused on their own professional gain, but the one sure way to prevent this harassment would have been for Bob Filner to listen and see what people were telling him for so many years. No. No. No. No. I don’t know if he ignored them because he’s clueless or just an asshole, but it doesn’t really matter.
Lori Saldaña says
This is far from a “personal failing.” Filner Was elected thanks to the hard work of thousands of people who put their faith in him to carry out a very different agenda in the mayor’s office. They donated generously of their time, money and good name to support him.
Many of them are from communities In the South County That have not had effective leadership for decades. Filner’s inevitable removal from office will be much harder on those neighborhoods.
I was not one of those supporters last year, for reasons that are now becoming clear to everyone.
However, Because a few of us disagreed with Filner on policy issues over the years, our concerns over his personal behavior were ignored.
Another woman will come forward today on local television. She is an elected official who also talked to Jess Durfee two years ago, around the same time I did. Jess has claimed he only heard Concerns about harassment from me, and Somehow that did not require additional research into Filner’s behavior. I’m not sure how he will excuse this person’s allegations that he was told of in 2011
I will have more to say on this as additional women And information comes forward.
Andy Cohen says
Well, then I’ll add Jess Durfee to the list of enablers. But I’m confounded by the fact that the people who ran his office–ran his life, really–didn’t have anything to say about it. Isn’t it the chief of staff’s job to keep his or her boss from flying too far off the reservation? To keep the boss somewhat grounded and in line?
Durfee was an outside presence, and really didn’t have a whole lot of control over the situation. And since Filner was the only Democrat in the race, it doesn’t make sense that Durfee would try to push him out of it, but instead try to manage it as best he could. You know better than I do that that’s politics.
Lori Saldaña says
Filner needed the local party to not only support him, but stop other Democrats from coming into the race. Jess was in his final term as chair, and desperately wanted to elect a Democratic mayor as his legacy.
His 1st choice stepped aside for Filner, but had Jess listened to not only me but at least one other elected woman we could have told Filner: change your behavior or the party will recruit and support someone else in the primary.
I’ll never know why, buts Jess chose to believe Filner, not women, and here we are.
Andy Cohen says
Can you share who that first choice was? Perhaps that person would be a suitable candidate if this recall business comes to fruition? That’s the main concern for many of us: That there’s no one there to carry on Filner’s agenda if/when he’s gone. Todd Gloria certainly isn’t going to do it. Neither will Nathan Fletcher, although personally I find Fletcher more palatable than Gloria. Donna Frye has already said she won’t run.
So who else is there?
Interesting. Sometimes people think they are doing someone a favor by not confronting them, when in fact the opposite is true.
Dorothy Lee says
Lori, two questions:
What’s with the Intermittent Caps in your typing?
And Somehow, don’t you think Jess Durfee was very Smart to Not do Additional Research based on Olga’s Strange Encounter of the Eighth Kind, just Breathlessly reported on TeeVee?
Really. What a joke. I never knew much about you Previously, but what I see you Doing here and Everywhere is very informative about Why You Are Where You Are. Nowhere.
Frank Gormlie says
Olga Diaz from Escondido?
Lori Saldaña says
Correction: After extreme pressure from Scott Peters campaign staff, leaders within the Democratic Party And labor community, Who assured me Bob’s behavior would not be an issue going forward, I Reluctantly endorsed Filner in May 2012 And received an appreciative phone call from one of his key campaign staff.
That was the extent of my support for him.
Interestingly, many of those same people Who criticized me for not supporting Filner last year have been among the earliest and loudest to call for his resignation.
Good point: personality types tend to remain constant. If one is prudent in support, one may also be prudent in condemnation. And the more one violently worships, the more one denounces when the object of veneration proves only too human.
It reminds me of my friends who were insanely worshipful of Obama, of whom I had a modest appreciation. He seemed like a smart and pleasant fellow. Now, and for some time, he has been more like the Devil to them, while to me he seems pretty much like the middle of the road guy for whom I voted, some disappointments aside.
Frank Gormlie says
Some how, Vince Hall, chief of staff, walked away from the mess he helped put into place. If it’s true that Hall was responsible for how staff was treated, how could he resign “in solidarity” with anyone?
Frank: In solidarity with his instinct to survive, perhaps. Not knowing him, I cannot say for certain.
Maybe it is time for Arnold Schwartzeneger.
Dorothy Lee says
Perfect comment. He’s always the main course. And can we have him with a bit of GigSalad on the side?