Mayor Bob Filner’s Sexual Harassment Lesson

Bob_Filner_Press_Conference_About_VeteransBob Filner is out of therapy. The 70-year-old mayor of San Diego, who is accused of sexually harassing at least 14 women, including two who were sexually assaulted in the military, actually finished his two-week stint early. This is either a terrific sign that the former 10-term congressman has been cured of his penchant for grabbing women on the ass, suggesting they not wear panties to work, and trying to kiss them. Or it’s an absurd ploy so that Filner can get back into his locked office and avoid a recall effort.

I suspect that it’s the latter. Never mind that two weeks of therapy isn’t going to cure anything. Or as my 23-year-old son so aptly put it when I mentioned Filner’s sordid history, “How’s that going to help?” For that matter, the Democratic mayor certainly hasn’t been contrite. Despite virtually every politician in America, save perhaps David Vitter, calling on him to resign, despite most San Diegans begging him to go, despite a “Not Welcome Back” rally by his opponents this week downtown, Filner is not budging.

I’ll say this for him. He didn’t survive in Washington for 20 years by doing what’s right.

Only last week, Filner’s lawyer was blaming the city of San Diego for the mayor’s lewd behavior. He went on to argue that the city should pay for Filner’s legal defense, on the grounds that it had failed to provide Filner with mandatory sexual harassment training. That might be understandable if Filner were a clueless teenage boy.

Filner, the twice-divorced, 70-year-old man, is another kettle of fish.

Filner still doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. Still doesn’t believe that he did anything illegal when he allegedly told Irene McCormack Jackson, his former communications director, that he’d like to see her “naked,” and to “consummate their relationship.” The question is, will he ever?

I happen to have a personal interest in the Filner spectacle, not just because of what it says about the abuse of power in politics, and how women are still subject to outrageous sexual come-ons by male politicians. But also because I grew up in San Diego, and when I lived there it was still a military town driven by old boy, Republican politics — think D.C. , but with sailors, surfers, and John Birchers. The mayor, Pete Wilson, was a moderate Republican who later became a U.S. senator and California governor. He was also about as straight and bland as you can get. Which in retrospect must look pretty good right now.

For years Democrats played a minor role in the city’s incestuous politics. Then last November, Filner beat Republican challenger Carl DeMaio to become the city’s first Democratic mayor in nearly 30 years.

This might explain why Democrats were so quick to overlook Filner’s considerable faults. They had a lot at stake. It’s not as if his bad behavior were a national secret. As one well-connected San Diegan told me, “He has a history of being awful to people, regardless of race, color, creed or place of national origin. This includes his own staff, male or female.”

During his long tenure in Washington, women had several nicknames for the predatory congressman: “Mr. Misogynist,” “Nasty Narcissist,” and my favorite, “Filthy Filner.” Last September, two women who’d seen Filner in action in D.C. tried to warn San Diegans before the election about his harassment of women.

In an anonymous letter to DeMaio’s campaign, the women expressed watching in horror at the reality of Filner becoming mayor. “With the same disbelief, we have waited for at least one of your local women to ‘come out of the closet’ as to the true character of Mr. Filner,” they wrote. “Perhaps she/they have the same fear of Filner as we do.”

This is one reason why women don’t come forward. Because they’re afraid of being retaliated against. Another reason is the fear they won’t be believed. But yet another I think is that often women can hardly believe it themselves. Did he really just whisper that he wanted to see me naked? Did he really just try to ram his tongue down my throat? Did he really just block the door so I couldn’t leave the room?

McCormack Jackson, who is now suing Filner, said at a press conference that the day she became his communications director she was thrilled. She even took a $50,000 pay cut. Almost immediately, Filner began harassing her. The next six months were the worst of her career.

But women also don’t come forward because they don’t want to get involved. They don’t want their names in the press. They don’t want the negative publicity, the mess. There’s nothing in it for them.

When I contacted a well-known Republican lobbyist in San Diego who’d had business dealings with Filner to ask for an interview, she politely declined. “No great tale of personal sexual harassment,” she wrote in an email. “Did check with a couple of my girlfriends and they do not want to talk to press — once was enough and they have nothing more to say.”

Mona Gable is a Los Angeles-based journalist who writes about politics, women’s issues, and health. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Prevention, Fast Company and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter @monalgable.

Image Source: Pattymooney via Wikimedia Commons.

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