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Bob Filner: From progressive hope to national punchline
San Diego's mayor could have been great. Instead, he's awful.
From congressman to mayor to alleged serial groper to....
From congressman to mayor to alleged serial groper to.... Bill Wechter/Getty Images
W

hen Bob Filner was elected San Diego's mayor last November, the 70-year-old progressive Democrat's supporters hoped he'd be a hands-on mayor who would aggressively take on the city's traditionally conservative interests and powers that be and bring lots of attention to San Diego. At least part of that came true.

Filner is now being accused of literally being a hands-on (women) mayor, and he certainly brought attention to San Diego, but not exactly the kind his now-grieving supporters had in mind.

So far, 14 prominent and highly respected women — some of them Filner's political allies — have come forward to offer detailed allegations of alleged sexual harassment by Filner. Filner has been accused of groping and trying to kiss women and getting several in an unwanted and proprietary "Filner headlock." And the details keep getting worse: Two women say he approached them at a function for women who had been raped in the military. And worse:

Marine veteran Katherine Ragazzino choked up during a Tuesday press conference as she recalled a June meeting with Mayor Bob Filner in his office. Ragazzino and her nurse, Michelle Tyler, alleged that Filner isolated Tyler after the meeting and repeatedly asked her on a date, implying a quid-pro-quo to help Ragazzino. [Voice of San Diego]

(Randal Enos, Copyright 2013 Cagle Cartoons)

Filner often gets lumped in with scandal-stained New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, and New York City comptroller candidate Elliot Spitzer. But Filner arguably faces the worst, most drawn-out, painful political consequences of the bunch.

Weiner will die a quick political death on election day, thanks to his repeated "sexting" even after he said he had quit the tawdry practice that cost him a seat in Congress. Spitzer, on the other hand, now appears as if he could win. Filner, however, apologized but refuses to resign, and insists what he did was not sexual harassment. He's now in the middle of a two-week, self-imposed leave of absence for intensive therapy, and is the target of an attempted recall election. While some think it's logistically and financially impossible to recall Filner, four top political consultants have joined the effort.

Meanwhile, the city's news media is having a field day with not just scandal revelations, but stories of Filner's legal chutzpah. Filner requested the city pay his legal expenses in the lawsuit filed by his former communications director Irene McCormack Jackson. When McCormack Jackson came forward with detailed allegations, more women came forward to talk to Jackson's attorney, Gloria Allred. The reason: McCormick Jackson is regarded in political and media circles as a highly credible straight shooter.

Next came the surreal: Filner's attorney Harvey Berger blamed the city for not giving the mayor sexual harassment training within six months of being hired, as stipulated in the municipal code. In a letter to the city he wrote:

There is a very, very good reason for mandatory sexual harassment training; if nothing else, it makes people think about the subject, and how they interact with their fellow employees. Had the city provided mandatory sexual harassment training to Mayor Filner, Ms. McCormack Jackson may never have brought her lawsuit.

That sparked a new report: It was in fact Filner who had cancelled the city's sexual harassment training. All of this made leading Democrats such as Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbra Boxer distance themselves from Filner, with Feinstein calling on him to resign. The San Diego Chamber of Commerce even uninvited Filner from a trip to Washington D.C. in late September.

A key Filner problem is that he is now a major TV, cable, comedy club, and internet punchline. Here's Stephen Colbert:

Jay Leno had a slew of Filner jokes including, "Illegal border crossings in California (are) way down this summer, especially in San Diego, because people are afraid they might get groped by the mayor if they come across." Bloggers can't resist, either.

Filner's aggressiveness, however, was reportedly well-known in Congress, and he was given a pass, notes Slate's Dave Weigel:

Bob Filner spent 20 years in the House of Representatives. At no time did any colleagues file ethics complaints against him. Some staffers for other members of Congress or campaigns call him "creepy" or say his overestimation of his own wittiness led him to say odd things to women.. ..Filner wasn’t just dropping warning signs. He was buying a 500-foot billboard and scrawling the word "WARNING" across it in day-glo colors. He might have expected that the niceties of politics, the lack of complaints against him, and a focus on women far from the spotlight would protect him. For quite a while, it did. [Slate]

To many of his supporters, it's a tragedy because Filner was known to deliver when he was in Congress, and they hoped he'd leave a progressive mark on San Diego. Instead, he's leaving a spreading stain. So San Diegans catch the news each day, wondering when there will finally be an end to the parade of women coming forward — and to Bob Filner's short, unhappy, "could have been" mayoral career.

Joe Gandelman is a syndicated columnist for Cagle Cartoons and is the editor of The Moderate Voice blog.

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