- Photo by David Rolland
"I have a lot of supporters out there. I apologize—I apologize to all of you. I think I let you down. We had a chance to do a progressive vision in this city for the first time in 50 years. As I'll say later, we need you to carry that vision forward. This is not the time to let it die. I apologize to all of you."
That was soon-to-be-former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner during the rational opening moments of what would quickly become a bizarre, completely irrational resignation speech last Friday during a special meeting of the City Council. It started so heartbreakingly well, Filner becoming choked up as he momentarily took responsibility for his bad behavior before throwing the thing in reverse and blaming everyone else.
Ever-so-briefly, he turned to the people seated in the council chambers who believed in him, voted for him and stood by him in the face of an onslaught of charges, by female employees, constituents and associates, of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual come-ons. Despite his fervent supporters' claims of overblown hysteria, conspiracy and lynch-mobbery, Filner looked at them and said he was responsible for their loss. He was the reason their progressive vision had lost the champion who'd finally made it to the Mayor's office.
But Filner was so wrong throughout the rest of his speech, painfully out of touch and in extreme denial. He started by saying it was all his fault, but then he flipped a crazy U-turn and said that while he has some problems, his enemies exploited them and used them to do him in. Suddenly, it wasn't his fault; it was someone else's fault. He ultimately gave voice to, and put his stamp of approval on, his defenders' claims of status-quo conspiracy, effectively telling them it's OK to continue to be angry at other people.
He was so right in those first few seemingly clearheaded but apparently not-so-sincere moments: It was his fault—and only his fault. As we move now toward a special election, those folks who prioritize political ideology over basic human decency will likely compare the candidates with the idea of their fallen hero. And we understand that. They're looking at the viable replacements and they're not seeing any liberals who'll favor the interests of the lower and middle classes over the influential status-quo types who insist upon, say, building unnecessary, obtrusive bridges and parking structures in the city's iconic urban park and earmarking hotel-room taxes for the marketing of private, big-money businesses while basic services are left wanting.
But here's the thing: Filner essentially rendered himself unacceptable as the mayor of San Diego, ineligible to continue to lead the city because of his inability to treat people with dignity and respect. If people believe Filner was their only hope for the future, they have much bigger problems.
With Toni Atkins and Christine Kehoe declaring themselves out of the race and, most unfortunately, Donna Frye not interested in running, liberal voters are likely left with Nathan Fletcher or Todd Gloria, who might not be the perfect shining embodiment of progressive populism, but they'll damn well be better for the city than Kevin Faulconer, Ron Roberts or Carl DeMaio.
As Filner told his supporters, we need to carry forward the vision of a progressive future. Filner himself is done—and, with his penchant for being a colossal asshole and an extreme narcissist, he likely would have been done after one term even if his hideous behavior toward women had stayed on the down-low. Fletcher and Gloria, if the latter decides to run, will need constant reminders that they are seeking to represent and lead a San Diego that chose a neighborhood-oriented, middle-class-focused platform over phony taxpayer-populism that caters only to industry lobbyists and demonizes those who advocate on behalf of lower-wage working people.
We endorsed Filner last year, but not because we thought he was perfect. He wasn't. He was horribly flawed. But he was the best choice offered. In November, we'll be offered another choice. We'll need to show up and make the best choice, again among a selection of less-than-perfect candidates. Looking forward, let's hope that groups like the San Diego Leadership Alliance can generate options that are better than Filner. Repeat after us: He. Was. Not. The. Guy.
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