San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s farewell speech on Friday afternoon was a tour de force of self-pity and deflection. He couldn’t find enough incongruent metaphors: He was a victim of a lynch mob, a political coup, an assassination.
Does this sound like a man who has spent two weeks in intensive behavioral rehabilitation? Seriously, he should get a refund.
Try as he might to take some responsibility for the calamitous outcome of his inability to keep his hands to himself, he was unable to embrace a simple fact: There is something so profoundly wrong with the way he thinks about and treats women that no amount of devotion to public service could overcome it.
Yes, Filner, San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years, paid lip service to the notion that he is to blame for his troubles: “The city should not have to go through this," he said, "and my own personal failures were responsible, and I apologize to the city.”
And he acknowledged he had offended. But he denied ever sexually harassing anyone: “To all the women that I've offended, I had no intention to be offensive, to violate any physical or emotional space. I was trying to establish personal relationships, but the combination of awkwardness and hubris led to behavior that I think many found offensive.”
Why couldn’t he have just stopped there?
Instead, he had to lash out: It was the media’s fault. It was the conservative business establishment’s fault. It was the fault of all his political enemies, garnered over a lifetime of selfless public service.
He took responsibility only for giving them “the ammunition” to kill off his political career.
“I did that and I take full responsibility, but there are well-organized interests who have run this city for 50 years who pointed the gun, and the media and their political agents pulled the trigger.”
The only person who pulled a trigger was Bob Filner. The media didn't call a news conference announcing his transgressions. Nor did their "political agents," whatever that means. In fact, it was his one-time ally, former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who called two astonishing press conferences--on July 10 and July 15--to share news of the mayor’s bad behavior and plead with him to step down.
In the most self-pitying statement of his speech, he alluded to his experience nearly 50 years ago in the Civil Rights movement as a 22-year-old Freedom Rider who spent two months in a Mississippi prison.
“I started my political career facing lynch mobs,” he said. “I think we have just faced one here in San Diego, and you’re going to have to deal with that.”
That’s an embarrassing and appalling statement for a man who used a technique that has become known as the “Filner Headlock” to immobilize his victims before he could plant wet kisses on them. To compare outrage over his behavior to the violent deaths of African Americans at the hands of racist mobs is unconscionable.
“Not one allegation,” he said, “has even been independently verified or proven in court. But the hysteria that has been created is the hysteria of a lynch mob….You have unleashed a monster and I think you’ll be paying for this hysteria for a long time. This hysteria ended up playing into the hands of those who wanted a political coup.”
But Mayor Headlock is the one who unleashed the beast, thanks to his narcissism and lust for power. Eighteen women have come forward to say he touched them or groped their buttocks and breasts or tried to kiss them or actually kissed them. One has filed a civil lawsuit. The mayor is conflating criminal offenses with violations of the public trust. When you have lost the trust of the people who elected you, you don’t really deserve to call yourself mayor anymore.
Instead of making peace with his political enemies, he was abrasive and combative. Of course they rooted for him to fail. But he delivered his own head on a platter for them. All they had to do was sit back and watch.
Bob Filner, whose progressive politics were a breath of fresh air for San Diego, whose business interests have long had the city in a headlock of their own, could have been a champion for San Diego’s long overlooked poor and minority communities, and a true friend of labor, which never deserted him.
Instead, he threw it away because he couldn't distinguish between women's rights and how to treat women right.
In an emailed statement, former Filner press secretary Irene McCormack Jackson, who filed the lawsuit against Filner and the city of San Diego that led to Friday's resignation, said she was relieved. "My thoughts are with the courageous women, who because they spoke out, galvanized the residents of this great city and its elected leaders to rise up against a serial sexual harasser and a gross abuser of power," she said. "Bye bye, Bob. You will not be missed."