Part 4: The Aftermath
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 three talks about the pressures brought about to gain her endorsement of the Filner mayoral candidacy.
By Lori Saldaña
On Election Day, I trailed Scott Peters on the first ballot announcement in the primary by less than 200 votes. I eventually lost by 700 votes, after being outspent 4:1. Most of his funds were family money.
Dollar for dollar, we ran the most cost efficient Congressional campaign in the state, if not the country. But in the end, personal wealth and internecine party warfare trumped our efforts.
Worse, after the June 2012 primary election, I continued to hear reports regarding Filner’s behavior towards women, including at campaign fundraising events. I did not personally witness these activities, since I had withdrawn from political activity. But they became common knowledge throughout the political community and were discussed by volunteers and others at events, who apparently decided to “hate the sin, but support the sinner.”
By this point- what else could anyone do? Speak up and allow Carl DeMaio to become Mayor?
That summer, many people encouraged me to attend campaign events. Our strong showing in the primary impressed many in the progressive community. I was called by fundraisers and others who hoped I would shift my support to other candidates, and continue to be a high profile leader for progressive Democrats who were troubled by the moderate influences within the Party.
But I was exhausted. I had worked for nearly a year on the campaign, ignoring my own health and well being. I re-focussed on my family and recovering my health. An injury I had been ignoring required treatment and possible surgery, and my 84 year old father was already scheduled for major surgery that summer. His recovery didn’t go well, and I found myself spending long hours at the hospital and rehab center as he went through a protracted healing period.
In early September I returned to teaching at Mesa College, and between that, physical therapy, and my father’s hospitalization, I didn’t have the time, energy or inclination to get involved with local political events.
Our work in the primary was truly grassroots, and widespread, and was not just about me- it was also about many thousands of people who desired a progressive Latina to represent San Diego in Congress, for the first time in the region’s history. Sadly, at that time, San Diego had never even had a woman of color elected to the city council.
After Filner won the November election, without going into details, I encouraged the Democratic Party volunteers I was still in communication with to work with Filner to ensure he treated his staff and others respectfully. Privately, I hoped he would be required to complete sexual harassment training, as we were in Sacramento, in addition to whatever other steps were necessary to be an effective leader for our city.
Obviously, this did not happen.
In December I rejoined the Sierra Club as their Chapter Chair, and when people approached me for recommendations to apply for Mayoral appointments to boards and commissions, I told I wouldn’t feel comfortable making personal recommendations while serving in this position.
When asked how I saw Filner managing various projects and initiatives, I privately feared the worst, but again, kept my concerns to myself. Instead, I told people I thought it best to see how he managed the transition over the first several months of his Mayoral term before offering a review.
However, I did express concerns to those I knew well. If they wanted a recommendation for a Mayoral appointment, I told them that a letter from me would not be helpful. I didn’t explain exactly why, but simply said I had a rocky relationship with the Mayor, and they would be better served by getting letters from others.
This went on for 6 months, until that news conference that finally opened the lid on the harassment.
In the end, San Diego needed and deserved a leader who represented all of us with fairness and integrity. Sadly, it was impossible for Bob Filner to demonstrate these values, as a Congressman, a candidate, and as mayor of San Diego. His eventual destruction was not just an individual failure. It impacted countless lives and added to San Diego’s reputation as a city that struggles to manage it’s civic affairs with integrity, transparency and honesty.
I will likely never convince my detractors that staying silent was a good choice. Had I received confirmation of his actions with more time before the Mayoral election, and not been a candidate myself, my choices and actions may have been different.
Announcing something that will destroy a person’s personal reputation and career is not something that should be taken lightly. Just review the news announcements from last summer to see how wrenching these actions were for others who finally spoke up.
As other recent scandals show us: there is more than enough bad behavior, corruption and deceit to go around in the political arena. I experienced more than my share while serving in Sacramento, and will write about that another time.
As for this incident: my weakness two-fold: I did not have the stomach to tolerate Filner’s transgressions, nor did I have the necessary relationships with others who might have been able step up and confront Filner directly and persuade him to change his behavior, or better yet, not run for Mayor.
Some have since suggested that Democratic leaders didn’t respond to me in part because they had decided it would be easier to get Filner elected into the Mayor’s office, then force him to resign in disgrace, and draft Fletcher to run to replace him.
I will end here, by saying: It’s not as absurd a theory as some may think…
Tomorrow: Looking forward – the battle for progressive ideals.