With his constituents, many from the city’s lower-income neighborhoods, he is patient, respectful and determined to help them battle what he sees as an entrenched establishment.
In conflict with other politicians, or with big-business interests, he’s combative, given to rudeness, and often uncompromising.
“I’m passionate,” explains Bob Filner, San Diego’s new Democratic mayor.
The change from Filner’s predecessor, Jerry Sanders, a moderate Republican and former police chief and United Way executive, has been startling.
Within days of taking office, Filner ordered the Police Department to stop trying to close down medical marijuana dispensaries. He moved to protect the seals on the beach at La Jolla and ordered redlight cameras removed from all city intersections.
In a fight over an allocation to the tourism industry, he went directly at the City Council with accusations of favoritism. “It was as though Filner marched into a lion’s dean with a whip and a chair,” Gene Cubbison, dean of San Diego political reporters, told his viewers on KNSD.
There are already grumbles of a recall.
None of the adverse reaction bothers him. The 70-year-old Filner learned his assertive, purpose-driven political style in the 1960s as a Freedom Rider in the segregated south.
Democratic activist and blogger Norma Damashek sees the anti-Filner backlash from the business community and local newspaper as a sign that he has his opponents on the run.
“Given San Diego’s historic resistance to change, aversion to conflict, and politically conservative mindset...Filner’s habit of straight-talk and ‘off-script’ remarks seems discordant,” she said.
Once a month, he meets with constituents to talk about individual issues. One man complained that he cannot interest the city government in allowing an urban farm on a vacant lot.
“We’re going to take on the bureaucracy together,” Filner told him.