Editors Note: Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña has an up close and personal story to tell about her dealings with former Mayor Bob Filner and the Democratic party establishment. This is part three of a five part series running this week at San Diego Free Press. Part one covers her early encounters with Filner, Part two describes the indifference she met when she tried to alert Democratic Party leadership.
Part 3: Endorsement Roulette
By Lori Saldaña
By early 2012 I was campaigning full time, struggling to raise money, and trying to earn the Democratic Party endorsement. The grassroots, progressive delegates were with me, but the more moderate Democratic faction did all they could to block my State Party endorsement.
A short time after I had shared my concerns about Filner he announced his engagement. Privately, I suspected this was done to counter my allegations. When I encountered Filner at campaign events we kept our distance, and I was never introduced to his fiancee.
Still, knowing what I knew about his personal behavior, I refused to give his campaign an endorsement. As I met with contributors who often gave money to congressional candidates, and knew Filner personally from his 20 years in DC, I continued to hear additional stories about Filner’s transgressions. Not all would provide details, but knowing what I knew, I didn’t need to ask.
Then, in May, less than 1 month before the June primary, Filner endorsed my opponent, Scott Peters. However, Peters refused to make an endorsement in the Mayor’s race in return, stating he had “other friends” who were also candidates. Dumanis? DeMaio? Fletcher? He wouldn’t say.
It was a bizarre turn of events.
I believe Peters and others had been publicly supporting Filner not only to prove their Democratic credentials in the primary, but because they were leaning towards Fletcher privately, and knew full well of Filner’s fatal flaws. That’s likely why Peters refused to endorse him, yet welcomed Filner’s support: it offered him plausible deniability when the situation became public after the election. (In 2013, as the problem became public, Peters was among the first to clean all images of Filner off his website.)
On the other hand, people have suggested this scenario: had I come forward and cited my reasons for not endorsing Filner, Peters and others may have been cast in a poor light, but they would have immediately used this as a pretense to attack me as a “bad Democrat” and untrustworthy for withholding the information, while potentially allowing Nathan Fletcher to win the primary if the Filner stories were corraborated by others.
Since Peters had refused to endorse Filner, I have to believe a Filner loss in the 2012 Mayoral primary would not have concerned him. He seemed friendly with Fletcher, and still does.
But if I had come forward about the harassment, in the end, I would have been cast as the reason for Filner’s mayoral defeat, and persona non grata with the Democratic base, which was strongly in my camp.
A campaign is not just about the candidate: hundreds of people volunteer in these efforts, and ultimately over 15,000 people contributed small amounts of money to our efforts, from all around the country. Looking back, I believe I did all I could to avert the situation that eventually occured in 2013. I didn’t want to alienate volunteers, split the Democratic base, and destroying any chance my campaign had at success.
So, I refused to comment on the endorsement, and suddenly I was under full scale attack from Filner’s supporters and Peter’s campaign staff. They used my refusal to endorse Filner as an indication that I was not suited for Congress.
According to them, I allowed “petty personality differences” to get in the way of working with good men like Bob Filner. Looking back, this is laughable, but no one knew then what we all learned a year later.
Also at the time polling showed me in a virtual tie with Peters, even though he was outspending me by virtue of having dumped nearly $2 million of his personal funds into his campaign. He had been on TV for weeks; I had done no TV at all. Yet despite his enormous personal spending, the race was too close to call.
Looking back, I believe this was Peters’ and his supporters’ nuclear option: force me to either make an endorsement of FIlner, or make my allegations about Filner public. If I did the latter, they would attack me for speaking badly about fellow Democrats and brand me as someone who doesn’t play well with others. If I did the former, they would wait for the account to become public and accuse me of complicity.
Within hours of the Filner/Peters endorsement, I was being interrupted in my campaign office by frantic calls, tweet and texts, being asked to reconsider making an endorsement of Filner that I had considered impossible only a few months before. I knew the people applying the hardest pressure were aware of Filner’s transgressions. In fact, it is common knowledge that some of them had been harassed themselves, and/or members of their family had been harassed by Filner, and they were covering it up out of “professional courtesy.”
My own advisors pressured me to endorse Filner. They were concerned I wasn’t working hard enough to “play nice” and meet with my critics to dispel the “bad blood” allegations.
At the same time, fundraisers back east were telling me I needed to stay on the phone, fundraising for hours every day, and making at least 100 phone calls before I could leave the office and walk precincts or attend community events.
I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. People I thought I could count on were withholding their support. They didn’t endorse my opponent, but kept their distance and professed a “wait and see” attitude that I found baffling and depressing. I began to have trouble sleeping, and had nightmares about the campaign, fueled in part by the secrets about Filner I had been withholding from people around me.
On the positive side, total strangers and national political figures were being incredibly supportive. Former DNC Chair Howard Dean and Former Assembly Speaker and current US Rep. Karen Bass both came to San Diego to co-host popular fundraising events and fire up progressive Democrats.
When I walked into the volunteer office I was always encouraged to see more people making phone calls, stuffing envelopes and donating their time and energy to the cause.
But in the end, pressures from both inside and outside the campaign wore me down. Trying to explain why I refused to support Filner without outing him became an additional distraction that my opponents exploited in the waning days of the campaign.
We issued a terse, one-sentence statement of endorsement for Filner.
Immediately, the critics went silent. And in less than a year, the same people who criticized me the loudest for failing to support Filner would become the first to call for him to resign and rush to endorse Nathan Fletcher – the newly minted Democrat- to replace him.
Tomorrow: Tip-toeing along the dangerous post-primary path.