The lurid saga in San Diego continues: Democratic Mayor Bob Filner, who has been accused of vile, unwanted sexual behavior by several women, insists he will not resign. As he wrote in the U-T San Diego on Monday:
"Over the last several days, there have been calls for me to resign as mayor. I'm not going to do that, and here is why: As your elected mayor, I fully expect to be accountable to the citizens of San Diego for all of my actions. But as a citizen of this country, I also expect — and am entitled to — due process, and the opportunity to respond in a fair and impartial venue to specific allegations from real people. I do not believe I am guilty of sexual harassment, and I believe a full presentation of the facts will vindicate me."
He has a point about "real people." Eventually, his accusers will have to step forward. I can understand why the women — described by former Filner supporters in a raucous press conference Monday as a staffer of six months, a campaign volunteer and a 72-year-old constituent — wish to remain anonymous for as long as possible. Women who allege sexual improprieties against popular politicians can pay a hefty price for their candor.
The bigger tragedy, of course, is the civic harm. After waiting 20 years for a Democratic mayor, San Diego liberals finally get a guy whose heart is in the right place, but whose hands can't stay still.
Just look at his liberal cred: In 1961, as an 18-year-old college student, he was arrested as a freedom rider in Mississippi and incarcerated for two months. He was a staffer for U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey. He was elected to 10 terms in Congress, representing San Diego County's most ethnically mixed and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, compiling a sterling liberal record on civil rights, gay rights, labor rights, abortion rights, immigrant rights, veteran's rights.
Since he was sworn in last December, Filner has given San Diego's entrenched and arrogant business sector long-overdue scrutiny. Among other things, as my colleague Tony Perry reported before the scandal broke, he's questioned why cash-strapped San Diego should spend millions of dollars on national advertising to promote major hotel chains that could easily afford their own ads.
As San Diego's Democratic establishment struggles over how to respond, Republicans have been able to sit back and enjoy the show. Who can blame them?
On Monday, you could see the pain in former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye's face as the longtime Filner ally demanded he resign. "Help us stop this horrible, horrible, civic nightmare," she pleaded.
Filner has put San Diego Democrats in a terrible position, reminiscent of the angst visited on the country 15 years ago by the enemies of another oversexed Democrat who also happened to be a champion of women's rights.
Overzealous Republicans may have impeached President Clinton but they could not pry him out of office. They could never persuade the country that while Clinton may have been a lousy husband, he was not a lousy president. He left office with a higher approval rating than any post-World War II president, and his popularity continues to this day.
But Filner is no Bill Clinton. He lacks the president's charm, people skills or reservoir of goodwill, and losing a mayor is not like losing a president.
Failing to acknowledge that some of the most appalling claims against him come from women who are not on his payroll, Filner wrote in the U-T: "I have acknowledged that at times I have treated the people with whom I work poorly. I am impatient and demanding. My aggressive style of fighting for the underdog has allowed me to be successful in the past …. However, there's a big difference between being a difficult guy to work for and being guilty of sexual harassment, as has recently been alleged."
I guess I wouldn't expect a guy like Filner to go down without a fight. Looks like California's most temperate city is in for a long, hot summer.