After Filner debacle, San Diego’s Todd Gloria’s picking up the pieces

Todd Gloria, who became acting mayor of San Diego after Bob Filner resigned, garnered praise from opposing factions, in part because he decided not to run for mayor.
Todd Gloria, who became acting mayor of San Diego after Bob Filner resigned, garnered praise from opposing factions, in part because he decided not to run for mayor.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

SAN DIEGO — Bob Filner had just resigned as mayor after a summer of scandal and civic ridicule. As Filner departed in disgrace, Todd Gloria was busy.

As City Council president, Gloria became acting mayor the minute Filner departed at 5 p.m. Aug. 30. No need for a swearing-in, no time for a speech.

He immediately moved into the mayor’s spacious City Hall office, posted a picture of his political hero President Harry S Truman, and put a sign on his desk with one of Truman’s favorite sayings, “The buck stops here.”


The city charter is vague about what powers an acting mayor can wield in the absence of an elected one.

But the 35-year-old Democrat showed immediately that he was not going to be a mere seat-warmer until voters elected a successor to Filner, who resigned amid accusations of sexually harassing women.

In his first action, Gloria overturned a Filner order that would have blocked the opening of a renovated Jack in the Box restaurant in North Park. Filner had dithered until the work was almost done, and his order would invite a lawsuit, Gloria reasoned.

Some Filner staffers were retained; others were sacked. Last-minute pay raises that Filner had granted were trimmed or eliminated.

Gloria overturned a Filner order that had blocked the city attorney’s effort to close medical marijuana dispensaries. Two dozen pot shops have since been forced to shut because the city has no zoning that permits them.

For Gloria, whose style includes a self-deprecating sense of humor, the last four months have been a whirlwind.

He is a ubiquitous presence on Twitter and morning TV news shows. He meets weekly with local reporters, appearing to enjoy the banter.

He has seemingly been everywhere: at the opening of a veterinary clinic; the groundbreaking for a rental car center; a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender wedding party bazaar; and meetings of general contractors, military officers, lifeguards, the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership and the San Diego Indian American Society.

He attended holiday parades in La Jolla and Ocean Beach; a promotion ceremony for police officers; and the installation in Tijuana of a new mayor.

When professional wrestlers brought their show to town, Gloria was at their seriocomic news conference. He talked about San Diego as “a proud city, an active, athletic city” while two of the musclemen growled at each other and promised mayhem at the upcoming bout.

On Thanksgiving, Gloria was at the Salvation Army dinner. On Christmas he was at a local restaurant helping to serve disabled veterans and their families.

His comments are tailored to the individual event, but they have an overarching theme: San Diego is back, no longer the butt of late-night comedians’ jokes about the “Filner headlock.”

“The era of Bob Filner is over,” Gloria told reporters at his pre-Christmas news conference. “Out in the community, they know we’ve moved on.”

In mid-January, he’ll give the mayor’s State of the City address. Among his plans: a $120-million bond issue to fix the city’s pothole-riddled streets, and a zoning ordinance to balance the needs of medical patients who need marijuana and neighborhood activists who do not want it sold near homes or schools.

Although reporters have focused on the furious six weeks between the first allegation of sexual harassment and Filner’s resignation, Gloria sees the Filner debacle on a larger scale: nine months of a chaotic management style.

Key positions running city departments were left unfilled. Projects foundered amid the mayor’s feuds with the business community, city attorney, City Council, media and others.

Gloria had hoped to be an ally of Filner, the city’s first Democratic mayor in two decades. But soon he found himself insulted and marginalized. Other council members received much the same treatment, and city business was disrupted.

“We were in crisis,” Gloria said. “We were a mess.”

(Filner, 71, has pleaded guilty to three counts related to mistreating women. At his sentencing hearing this month, his lawyer said Filner’s behavior as mayor may have been influenced by the fact that he had stopped taking the mood-stabilizing medication prescribed for him while in Congress.)

When a new mayor is elected in early February, Gloria will resume his post representing Council District 3, which includes Old Town, Mission Hills, Hillcrest, downtown and Golden Hill.

Two weeks ago, his council colleagues voted to renew his appointment as council president. In that role he presides over council meetings and helps set the agenda.

As council president, Gloria teamed with Councilman Kevin Faulconer, the council’s senior Republican, to represent the council during negotiations with Filner’s attorneys that led to the mayor’s resignation.

San Diego is in a politically divisive era — it has five Democrats and four Republicans on the council, and the once-powerful business community is seeking to use referendums to overturn two recent council actions seen as “job killers.” Still, Gloria has garnered praise from opposing factions, in part because he decided not to run for mayor.

“I don’t agree with Gloria on every issue,” said Mark Larson, conservative host of a radio talk show on KCBQ-AM (1170), “but let’s face it: The city needed some grown-up balancing at City Hall, fast, and San Diegans, regardless of party, should be thankful he decided to focus on cleaning up the messes and moving ahead.”

Chris Crotty, a Democratic political consultant, noted that “keeping a ship afloat is different than steering a new course.”

But, he added, “Todd has done a good job keeping the day-to-day operations of the city functioning, which, given what he inherited, is commendable.… He seems to enjoy the job of interim mayor.”

Gloria is expected to endorse Councilman David Alvarez, a Democrat, for mayor over Faulconer.

Because of term limits, Gloria will be out in 2016 after eight years on the council.

One bit of speculation is that he may run for Congress if his mentor and onetime boss, Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego), now in her seventh term, opts out. After graduating from the University of San Diego, Gloria was Davis’ district director from 2002 until 2008, when he was elected to the council.

As for what he has learned since Filner resigned, Gloria said he has enjoyed meeting a lot of city employees and increasing his knowledge about neighborhoods outside his district.

And, he added, “I found out it matters who is mayor.”