6 Lingering Questions About the Filner Debacle

Three well-known Democrats are calling on Mayor Bob Filner to resign just seven months after he became San Diego’s first progressive mayor in about two decades.

In a Tuesday letter first published by KPBS, former Councilwoman Donna Frye accused Filner of sexually harassing more than one woman and called on a mayor she once supported – and worked for – to resign. Environmental attorneys Cory Briggs and Marco Gonzalez also urged Filner to step down.

The three are planning to hold a press conference Thursday morning and have said they won’t detail their accusations until then.

Here are some of the questions we’ll be trying to answer in coming days.

What kind of behavior are we talking about?

It’s no secret Filner is a difficult boss. He’s said so himself.

“People know – and I have a reputation that’s deserved – that I’m tough to work for because I want excellence, I wanna change things and I wanna do ‘em fast and people know that,” Filner said at a June 28 press conference. “Some can adapt to that, some can’t.”

But the latest allegations reflect more than just a demanding boss.

In her letter, Frye said she had received “credible evidence” the mayor had sexually harassed more than one woman.
She didn’t identify the women or detail their allegations.

Will Filner resign, and if he does, who will take over as mayor?

The City Charter requires the City Council to hold a special election within 90 days of a resignation unless another election is already scheduled within 180 days. A runoff could be required if no candidate wins a majority vote.

In the interim, Council President Todd Gloria would temporarily take over the post, but his powers would be limited.

For example, Gloria couldn’t veto City Council decisions.

If Filner doesn’t resign, things could get more complicated. The city’s recall process is messy and unlikely to completely hold up in court.

What is City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s obligation to Filner if there’s a lawsuit?

The City Charter dubs the city attorney the city’s chief legal adviser for all city departments and officials, so he’d presumably have to represent Filner and the city.

(In most workplace harassment cases, the accuser sues both the alleged violator and the employer.)

But Gil Cabrera, former chairman of the city’s Ethics Commission, said the city attorney could recuse himself or Filner could opt to hire another attorney.

If there’s a lawsuit (or lawsuits), that seems likely.

Filner and Goldsmith have repeatedly battled since the mayor took office and at one point, Goldsmith issued a memo ordering his staff attorneys, especially women, not to visit the mayor’s office without a witness.

Why is environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez, best known for a series of legal battles over La Jolla fireworks, getting involved?

Gonzalez is a well-known attorney who has long championed environmental causes but he’s also a prominent progressive. He was among high-profile Democrats who endorsed Filner in the mayoral race and his sister Lorena Gonzalez was recently elected to the state Assembly after years leading the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.

It’s likely Filner’s embattled staffers sought out Gonzalez due to his credibility with Democrats.

These two sentences in Gonzalez’ Wednesday email to Filner were particularly telling:

While this is an extremely difficult message to convey, as members of a progressive community that prides itself on our support for women, their issues and especially equality in the workplace, we cannot sit idly by and watch your inexcusable behavior continue. What we would not accept of our enemies, we cannot condone of our friends.

What exactly is Briggs’ beef with the mayor?

Frye and Gonzalez made their concerns with the mayor’s treatment of women clear in their letters.

But Briggs’ motivation was more vague, and his letter to the mayor didn’t elaborate on any particular transgressions.

He simply said said the mayor had violated principles of “open, accountable, responsible government” and offered no details.

Briggs did, however, sue the city and Sunroad Enterprises over the city’s approval of a nine-foot easement that he says violated city rules and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Why now?

Filner,70, spent two decades as a congressman and also served stints as a councilman and school board member. Filner’s personality was frequently a liability but never imploded in a way that derailed his career.

But now Filner is mayor of a major city. In that role, he supervises dozens of staffers and complex, politically charged operations. He also receives much more media scrutiny and has been known to put in 18-hour days. Recent staff upheaval, including the resignation of a top aide and his communications director, may have also left Filner exposed.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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17 comments
Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

I don’t know why you keep referring to Hizzoner as “progressive”. The guy is a 70 year old egomaniacal bully with a history of playing big shot, throwing his weight around just for practice and abusing women. His so-called agenda involves growing government and screwing corporations. If the guy leaves voluntarily, I will be flabbergasted. More likely he’ll call a press conference, express regret for some of his actions, imply that others were overblown or misinterpreted, and try to soldier on. I personally doubt whether a recall would succeed. They are extremely difficult to organize and manage, and while the proceedings are grinding on, he would have countless opportunities to curry favor with key constituencies. Anyone who doubts Filner would be hard to recall need look no further than the comments of Ms. Mann and Mr. Smiechowski. Mann conjures up a conspiracy involving Kevin Faulconer and Jan Goldsmith; Smiechowski lays a guilt rip on anyone who would be happy if Filner left and takes a shot at former President Bush just for practice. Filner is unlikely to be going anywhere except to his office (or maybe Paris to drum up jobs for San Diego).

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

I don’t know why you keep referring to Hizzoner as “progressive”. The guy is a 70 year old egomaniacal bully with a history of playing big shot, throwing his weight around just for practice and abusing women. His so-called agenda involves growing government and screwing corporations. If the guy leaves voluntarily, I will be flabbergasted. More likely he’ll call a press conference, express regret for some of his actions, imply that others were overblown or misinterpreted, and try to soldier on. I personally doubt whether a recall would succeed. They are extremely difficult to organize and manage, and while the proceedings are grinding on, he would have countless opportunities to curry favor with key constituencies. Anyone who doubts Filner would be hard to recall need look no further than the comments of Ms. Mann and Mr. Smiechowski. Mann conjures up a conspiracy involving Kevin Faulconer and Jan Goldsmith; Smiechowski lays a guilt rip on anyone who would be happy if Filner left and takes a shot at former President Bush just for practice. Filner is unlikely to be going anywhere except to his office (or maybe Paris to drum up jobs for San Diego).

amy roth
amy roth subscribermember

Wow, Kevin, that's the best post by anyone over the course of this whole fiasco. "They put their party and desire to win ahead of the needs of the city and its citizenry" says it all. But I think the same behavior will also defeat a recall and keep Filner where he is.

Kevin Klein
Kevin Klein

Wow. Defending Filner is just ludicrous! Like Jones said, voters "knew what sort of guy he was when we elected him" and in my opinion deserve the repercussions of their actions. Saying local media "whitewashed" the real Filner is crap. The information was out there, a 30 year record of being an "a**hole" was there for anyone willing to look and listen. So now those who were dumb enough to support him, including Frye who even says in her letter, "despite past rumors, I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt," need to acknowledge it was their actions that led to this, their support that allowed this. Frye, Marco and all other supporters of Filner, including Mr. Nathan Fletcher, need to accept the mistake they made in endorsing Filner, and accept they did it because they put their party and desire to win ahead of the needs of the city and its citizenry. It's quite sad that the candidates we chose from in June and November of last year were of such a low caliber when we have so many good citizens who live in our truly "fine" city. Whether Filner resigns or not, and I think he shouldn't just to make voters suffer through his term as a learning experience, I have only 1 prediction - the next Mayor of San Diego indeed will be named Kevin.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

The only real question is why now? Even VOSD has helped whitewash the kind of man Filner is for years, but we all knew what sort of guy he was when we elected him. We knew why Frye split from him, why the people closest to him don't think highly of him, but we ignored it, or censored it from the public in the case of the local press, until now. So why now? Is this to avoid what an investigation into possible extortion of Sunroad might uncover? Is there something else even worse that is being covered up, and getting Bob to resign over something silly is the best option? Regardless, fight this off Bob, you deserve to rule over the little people, you're a mayor and can do whatever you want!

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The only real question is why now? Even VOSD has helped whitewash the kind of man Filner is for years, but we all knew what sort of guy he was when we elected him. We knew why Frye split from him, why the people closest to him don't think highly of him, but we ignored it, or censored it from the public in the case of the local press, until now. So why now? Is this to avoid what an investigation into possible extortion of Sunroad might uncover? Is there something else even worse that is being covered up, and getting Bob to resign over something silly is the best option? Regardless, fight this off Bob, you deserve to rule over the little people, you're a mayor and can do whatever you want!

christine mann
christine mann

lets not forget Sunroad and what a set up that was: from OB Rag Another issue that Faulconer dances around is this supposed “scandal” that he is trying to puff up, the so-called “pay-to-play scheme with a developer” – meaning the latest Sunroad dust-up. Faulconer, who knows Tom Story – the Sunroad principal – when Story headed up the City’s Development Services department, is making efforts to beef up the controversy. Faulconer’s voice mail machine was supposedly called by Story who left a message indicating the $100,000 that his company was giving was a donation to Filner’s special projects. Why did Story call Faulconer? Faulconer was not involved in the deal. But it was his voice mail message from Story that is being touted as “evidence” of the quid-pro-quid arrangement. This little fact is indeed adding fuel to the rumor that Filner was set up by the Republicans around this deal – where Filner announced that he was returning the money to Sunroad. Tom Story – a City Hall veteran for many years – knew full well that if his checks appeared to be in return for Filner’s “favors”, Filner would look bad. So, now we have Story, Goldsmith and Faulconer – not to mention their mentor “Papa” Doug Manchester, running full bore against Filner with daily “exposes” against him, all trying to undo the last election.

christine mann
christine mann subscriber

lets not forget Sunroad and what a set up that was: from OB Rag Another issue that Faulconer dances around is this supposed “scandal” that he is trying to puff up, the so-called “pay-to-play scheme with a developer” – meaning the latest Sunroad dust-up. Faulconer, who knows Tom Story – the Sunroad principal – when Story headed up the City’s Development Services department, is making efforts to beef up the controversy. Faulconer’s voice mail machine was supposedly called by Story who left a message indicating the $100,000 that his company was giving was a donation to Filner’s special projects. Why did Story call Faulconer? Faulconer was not involved in the deal. But it was his voice mail message from Story that is being touted as “evidence” of the quid-pro-quid arrangement. This little fact is indeed adding fuel to the rumor that Filner was set up by the Republicans around this deal – where Filner announced that he was returning the money to Sunroad. Tom Story – a City Hall veteran for many years – knew full well that if his checks appeared to be in return for Filner’s “favors”, Filner would look bad. So, now we have Story, Goldsmith and Faulconer – not to mention their mentor “Papa” Doug Manchester, running full bore against Filner with daily “exposes” against him, all trying to undo the last election.

christine mann
christine mann

Good God, its very sad to c so many ppl convict Filner based on here say and as much as I luv Donna, she is not perfect. She can be wrong. I mean what is the "credible evidence". Is it a phone call from the supposed victims? U think it would be that hard to pay low level city employees to make some awful allegations? anyone heard of the honeypot scheme? We already know Sunroad was a set up. Why wouldnt they try a sexual harrassment set up as well...

christine mann
christine mann subscriber

Good God, its very sad to c so many ppl convict Filner based on here say and as much as I luv Donna, she is not perfect. She can be wrong. I mean what is the "credible evidence". Is it a phone call from the supposed victims? U think it would be that hard to pay low level city employees to make some awful allegations? anyone heard of the honeypot scheme? We already know Sunroad was a set up. Why wouldnt they try a sexual harrassment set up as well...

Daniel Smiechowski
Daniel Smiechowski

Daniel Smiechowski Any person with a sense of glee in regard to the fall of Filner can be seen in row 470 as the weakest of the weak. Ever read the obituaries where one of 250,000 have run as a candidate...coincidentally, I have run 12 times...I certainly can never condone the alleged behavior by our Mayor but nevertheless, if you can not or never suffered the blows of the arena, what sense of humanity have you...? The man failed in the most public setting, now show some real courage in not pounding him while he is on his knees...I honestly prefer that you pound me since I do understand the sickness and weakness of humanity. Now go run your own campaign and get elected...see what it feels like to fail....over and over again..I would even say the same for #43 of which was the worst President ever! I could never pound #43 djs

Daniel Smiechowski
Daniel Smiechowski subscriber

Daniel Smiechowski Any person with a sense of glee in regard to the fall of Filner can be seen in row 470 as the weakest of the weak. Ever read the obituaries where one of 250,000 have run as a candidate...coincidentally, I have run 12 times...I certainly can never condone the alleged behavior by our Mayor but nevertheless, if you can not or never suffered the blows of the arena, what sense of humanity have you...? The man failed in the most public setting, now show some real courage in not pounding him while he is on his knees...I honestly prefer that you pound me since I do understand the sickness and weakness of humanity. Now go run your own campaign and get elected...see what it feels like to fail....over and over again..I would even say the same for #43 of which was the worst President ever! I could never pound #43 djs

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Filner is a progressive. What else would you call a egomaniacal bully with a history of playing big shot, throwing his weight around just for practice and abusing women whose agenda involves growing government and screwing corporations?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Filner is a progressive. What else would you call a egomaniacal bully with a history of playing big shot, throwing his weight around just for practice and abusing women whose agenda involves growing government and screwing corporations?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Republicans can only hope Filner stays where he is. The local media has certainly whitewashed Filner, nothing here is new, and the only reason it's in the media now and not decades ago is because for some reason the left has decided that their party is best served exposing Filner than protecting him at this particular point in time. They are still putting their party and desire to win ahead of the needs of the city. They are not attacking Filner now because of anything Filner did, just as they protected him from the worst of himself in the past, it's all about the party and getting as much power and tax money as they can, and they all figure at this point it's better served revealing Bob instead of protecting Bob. But Bob is the same Bob that the people elected. He hasn't changed, if he was fit for the job a half year ago, he is just as fit now.

amy roth
amy roth

Wow, Kevin, that's the best post by anyone over the course of this whole fiasco. "They put their party and desire to win ahead of the needs of the city and its citizenry" says it all. But I think the same behavior will also defeat a recall and keep Filner where he is.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Republicans can only hope Filner stays where he is. The local media has certainly whitewashed Filner, nothing here is new, and the only reason it's in the media now and not decades ago is because for some reason the left has decided that their party is best served exposing Filner than protecting him at this particular point in time. They are still putting their party and desire to win ahead of the needs of the city. They are not attacking Filner now because of anything Filner did, just as they protected him from the worst of himself in the past, it's all about the party and getting as much power and tax money as they can, and they all figure at this point it's better served revealing Bob instead of protecting Bob. But Bob is the same Bob that the people elected. He hasn't changed, if he was fit for the job a half year ago, he is just as fit now.